WELLFLEET -- What is it with these rural waitresses? Have they no common sense whatsoever?
Like Tracy Letts's "Bug," which the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre mounted two summers ago, Julia Jordan's "Dark Yellow" posits a lonely woman (here, the archetypally labeled "Woman," played by Stacy Fischer) dallying with a strange "Man" (Robert Kropf) who positively exudes danger -- to the point that any female with half a brain would run screaming.
Kropf is an expert at this explosive, psychopathic type: Once again, as in "Bug," his lightning-speed speech patterns seem meth-impelled, his body coiled for fight or flight. However, his reappearance in such a similar role so soon after "Bug" does produce a certain sense of deja vu.
And whereas "Bug" (now out in a film version) at least had the ability to get under one's skin, preposterous as its premise was, "Dark Yellow" sticks to a carefully polished surface. The script, threaded through with highlighted themes and recurring allusions, never lets you forget for a moment that there's an authorial voice manipulating every bit of dialogue between these two supposedly autonomous strangers. Their dialectic, far from organic, has the feel of a thesis transposed, and it's not one that speaks well of womankind.
The play starts with a prelude of sorts, and these first five minutes are spine-chilling: In the dark, behind a scrim of silhouetted cornstalks, we hear a man calling out to a boy hiding in the field (a cameo for WHAT artistic director Jeff Zinn's son, Noah). The boy is in danger, having just witnessed a murder, and the man's blandishments, as self-proclaimed rescuer, are so transparent, only a child would fall for them.
One hook that the man employs is to warn that the boy's mother might be targeted next. Cut to Woman's apartment after hours, later that night (or perhaps some other time or place, if you want to accede to the author's penchant for intentional ambiguity). As Woman whips up fresh margaritas, she and Man engage in a series of chatty parlor games -- primarily, "Tell me something I don't know" -- as a form of foreplay.
It's here that those heavy-handed motifs get introduced: Man claims to have a thing for yellow umbrellas, while Woman is obsessed with the celebrity death count at 72nd Street and Central Park West. It's also at this juncture, very early in the proceedings, that any shred of credibility flies out the window.
If this Woman is truly a barmaid (Fischer comes across more like a slumming grad student), she's apparently one with a subscription to "Psychology Today" and perhaps a stash of back issues of "True Crime." She's a veritable Ms. Wizard, drawing on an endless font of factoids as the pair head toward the inevitable tryst, which proceeds in fits and starts before it takes (briefly). Woman's immediate post-coital comment? "Did you read in the papers . . ."
There's quite a bit of going-nowhere blather about revenge, forgiveness, and redemption, as well as some major revelations, meant to be jaw-dropping. If Man has a hidden agenda, Woman will prove to have one, too -- think along the lines of Stephen King's "Misery" or, as Woman puts it, "A girl needs to be needed."
The clues have been there all along, painstakingly planted, and Woman brags, early on, about being an ace at "memory games." Given that audience members do not have a gun held to their heads, however, many will have long since ceased keeping score, much less caring who comes out on top.