Lost souls wrestle with life choices in David Auburn's "Lost Lake" at BTG's Unicorn Theatre

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STOCKBRIDGE — The setting for David Auburn's 2014 drama "Lost lake' — evocatively designed by Randall Parsons for director Daisy Walker's low-key, richly moving production at Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Theatre — is a decrepit lakeside cabin in upstate New York, about one hour north of the city. Its rundown condition is somewhat emblematic of its purported owner, a helpless, hopeless drifter named Hogan (Quentin Mar ), who blames his woebegone state on others — especially his sister-in-law — even though at some deep primal level he is wrestling with his own role in the affairs that have brought him to his current state. But the cabin's disrepair also is somewhat emblematic of a one-week summer tenant — a black woman in her 30s, a nurse practitioner named Veronica (Lynnette R. Freeman), who is looking to rent the cabin for one week in August for herself, her two children and a friend of one of them.

As played by Freeman, resourcefully and with authentic poignancy and full human dimension, Veronica is an adept, tough negotiator. Life has done that. She's been widowed two years. She's learned to manage; to look out for her son and daughter and herself. She is pragmatic, protective, wary and unyielding. All those resources are being tested, however, in a country setting that is, at best, inhospitable. And for all her good intentions, she's made a mistake, a big one that could cost her her career in medicine. She is fearful of the outcome but she also owns her mistake.

Mar 's well-meaning Hogan is barely keeping his head above water. His disheveled appearance, the deterioration of the cabin are all indicative of a life slipping out of order and control. He is being sued by the lakeside homeowners association. He is being hounded by his sister-in-law and brother over a serious financial issue. He is divorced and separated from his daughter. In more ways than one, he is homeless.

In the time they spend in each other's not-so-welcome company — a meeting in March to negotiate terms of the rental; Hogan's periodic well-meaning visits to the cabin during the week Veronica and the three kids are there; and an unexpected meeting six months later to finish some unfinished business — the two take the measure of one another.

For all his indolent ways, Hogan never poses a threat to Veronica and while she doesn't trust him and is impatient with his procrastination, she lets him into her life, albeit only so far. She is far more assertive and aggressive in terms of charging into his life and what she finds provides context for her understanding of who Hogan is.

Auburn — who won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for "Proof" — has crafted an elegantly subtle play that doesn't go for convenient predictable reveals and plot turns or cheap melodramatic turns. It is an at once simple and complex play about two people doing the best they know how to make a life and stay even with the curve, if not get ahead of it, even if only by an inch.

Walker's production keeps tone, temperament and texture with Auburn, giving "Lost Lake" everything it needs, and then some.

Mar 's deeply injured Hogan is crafted with grand gesture and an affecting and ingratiating seedy style. At the same time, you sense his sense of lost opportunity and wince with his pain when he talks about his daughter, who is about to enter Columbia University on full scholarship and from whom he is irrevocably estranged.

Freeman's path as Veronica is an exercise in restraint; in saying much with less. Nuance registers in her face, her eyes; a change in modulation of her voice; an ever-so-slight pause, a hesitation.

These performances are about as graceful and honest as you are likely to find in a production that is as graceful and honest as you are likely to see — ever.

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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