For anyone distressed by the prospect of a nightmare Airbnb scenario, the setup of David Auburn’s Lost Lake (now playing at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage I through Dec. 21) might just give you a start.
Hogan (John Hawkes, in a marvelous New York stage debut), a slovenly, disorganized renter of a dilapidated lake house in upstate New York, has found a partial summer tenant in the form of Veronica (Tracie Thoms), a single mother of two. After some haggling over how payment will be arrived at, the pair mutually agree to minor renovations and the removal of clutter. But Hogan, who has lived in the home up to this point, has made inadequate arrangements otherwise, and Veronica, already harboring a secret of her own, becomes more red-faced over his constant check-ins and lack of management. And given Hogan is played by Hawkes, that master of the deep-woods desperado as in Winter’s Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene on film, Lost Lake nearly contains the framework for an Eli Roth horror picture.
However, Pulitzer-winning author Auburn (Proof) approaches Lost Lake in much gentler form, almost as if Neil Simon was set loose in the woodlands. As this is a two-person play, the narrative has to make some rather contrived maneuvers to put the two leads in the same room (would Veronica really leave her kids in a likely-polluted lake for that long while she shoots the breeze with Hogan?).
Even when you don’t quite buy such machinations though, the appealing presences of Thoms and especially Hawkes carry it awfully far; the latter even gets maximum comic mileage out of a simple line like ”I don’t drink coffee, I’m a tea drinker.” Lost Lake is, occasionally, a rather weak tea but these two give off a full-on, caffeinated buzz. B