Mary-Louise Parker's smile characteristically displays a sparkle indistinguishable from the glint of cosmic frazzle. The deft actress pretty well owns the repertory of dazed-but-practical young women all too aware that there's got to be a better situation than whatever situation they're in; meanwhile, they wear themselves out adapting to absurdity. Optimistic pessimism, let's call it, the beguiling evocation of which makes Parker an invaluable participant in the romantic-absurdist, optimistic-pessimistic creations of playwright Craig Lucas, author of Prelude to a Kiss and The Dying Gaul.
For Rachel, the antic housewife who greets Christmas Eve in a fit of ebullience at the start of Lucas' careening tragicomedy Reckless, that absurdity includes a husband who announces (as holiday lights twinkle) that he has put a contract on her life, a son who has ''fired'' his mother, and a nighttime escape that leads Rachel to the safe haven of Lloyd (Michael O'Keefe), an eccentric physical therapist, and his mute, wheelchair-propelled girlfriend, Pooty (Rosie Perez). On her headlong devolvement from euphoria to something less naive, Rachel participates in a garish TV game show, witnesses death-by-poisoning, and undergoes a once-over by a battery of crazy shrinks, all of them played to crazy-shrink hilt by Debra Monk.
Reckless gives American success and American emptiness a hard shake. But there's no outrunning the fact that this revival of a play first produced in 1983 relies on faded markers of an earlier era in pop-cultural excesses, resistant to the bright, new, windup-toy staging of director Mark Brokaw. (Parker played Pooty in the dampened 1995 movie adaptation.) And the time-travel dislocation decreases the drama's urgency, even as it emphasizes the star's value.
''The past is irrelevant. It's something you wake up from,'' Rachel claims. ''The past is some-thing you wake up to. It's the nightmare you wake up to every day,'' counters Lloyd. Reckless pinballs from one view to another, with Parker a master of the game-board controls.