Ever since 9/11, the American public’s fascination with the possibility of a post-apocalyptic, doomsday scenario in our country has manifested itself time and time again in our artistic output (think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars). Through the Yellow Hour is versatile playwright Adam Rapp’s contribution to the lexicon of barren, bombed out landscapes rife with pestilence and the people trying to survive within them, this time set in what could easily be the present and in the middle of New York’s (still hip) East Village.

The scene opens in a grungy apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen and a small woman curled in the fetal position on the floor downstage. From the back, and through a typhoid window (a double protective layer of glass), comes a menacing man who is obviously homeless, with rambling speech and shabby clothes. The woman gets up, retrieves a gun and shoots him dead. For most of the remainder of the play, he sits in a corner, and at one point the heroine says something about how he adds color to the place. But this is how the stage is set for the story that follows.

It turns out that a group known as the Egg Heads has seriously bombed New York City and some form of virus is spreading in the wake of this over-the-top violence. Our heroine Ellen (underplayed beautifully by Hani Furstenberg who’s no stranger to intense and mysterious storylines after her role in Julia Loktev’s 2011 thriller The Loneliest Planet and her brief roles on TV in both CSI and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) has been a prisoner in her apartment living on canned goods and waiting endlessly for the return of her husband, who somewhat impetuously stepped outside some 50-odd days ago. Nobody can venture out for fear of the wrath of the Egg Heads, a seemingly Muslim group that tortures prisoners and has reduced the city to rubble, routinely grabbing and killing people they catch in the street.

There is a war; there is an infection. But is this apocalypse based on religious differences? During the play, Ellen is visited by a woman, Maude (the force of nature Danielle Slavick) who carries a special gift for her (a baby) and pushes all the emotional buttons she can; and also by a newly-castrated man who says he knows the fate of her husband. She is left in the end with an adorable and very young Afro-American boy whose sole purpose seems to be to provide her with companionship. She cedes the baby to a strange, other-worldly but very well-dressed woman and a man claiming to be a doctor, and by whose banter one discovers that perhaps someone — or a corporate entity somewhere — is collecting female babies and looking to re-engineer the whole human race; and that maybe, just maybe, there is an American presence behind this wild scheme of total obliteration and rebirth. At the end, and after the string of strange visitors, Ellen is left with the gorgeous young man, in the bathtub that sits in the middle of her East Village kitchen, making like a slightly offbeat mother figure/cougar and aiming for a future.

The acting is very strong in this play, but somehow wasted in the fruitless landscape, a theatrical version of the imitative fallacy we learned about in high school English class. I believe Miss Furstenberg as Ellen is scared, bereft (of her husband) and proactively defensive all at the same time, despite the somewhat ludicrous situation; and Miss Slavick could sell wool to a sheep with her come hither look, making her wild betrayal all the more surprising. Brian Mendes as the crazy intruder is, well, a crazy intruder; and Alok Tewari — who as the mysterious stranger with knowledge of her husband’s grisly fate, and a very Muslim look, is seemingly both comforting and dangerous.

Somehow, it feels like this story has been told before, and better. A woman is self-imprisoned as the rest of the world falls apart; loses her husband to the apocalypse; makes uneasy peace with the brave new world. The stage set, by Andromache Chalfant, looks like a typical East Village apartment pre-gentrification (is there some resonance here?) but that could, conceivably, exist in the future as a byproduct of war, a past/present paradox that works. Rapp is, as others have pointed out, less a genius of invention than a great amalgamator, the kind of writer who takes from other sources and, while his stories may not be original, can regurgitate old material into new forms. His wonderful play, Red Light Winter, which is about to be a film under Rapp’s direction, was such a play.

This one, unfortunately, is not, at least not yet. There are some long, incomprehensible stretches of silence, incongruous situations (such as when the dead homeless guy comes back to life to help Ellen in some kind of grief-induced hallucination on her part), and a lack of believability, such as the reasons Maude hits so hard on Ellen and then tries to kill her, although one could conjecture deep and misguided loneliness. Rapp, who can write, might do well to let others take the director’s reins and pull them in a bit harder on this one, so we are not just told how frightened people are but can see how conclusions are drawn on the basis of that fear. The political line is being screamed at the audience when it really would have more power if it were simply stated in a straightforward manner. Still, for those who like a good pot boiler awash with strange characters and potentially grave political sentiments, or TV like the Sci-Fi channel, this may be a night to remember.

(“Through the Yellow Hour” can currently be seen at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, located at 224 Waverly Place, New York, NY 10014, in an extended run through November 10, 2012. Tickets are on sale through Ovationtix by calling 866-811-4111 or by visiting http://www.wegothere.org)

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