A public service announcement for characters on the New York stage: Do not let the actor Elias Koteas into your house. Yes, you may find yourself improbably rapt by his lush mustache, muscular build, balding pate, and mumbled come-ons, but the assignation will not end well. Playing a variation on the unstable ex-husband in last year’s Hot ‘n’ Throbbing or the devious brother in 2000’s True West, Koteas once again insinuates himself into a household and wreaks all manner of havoc in Julia Jordan’s cornfield noir Dark Yellow. The play opens genially enough as a bartendress (Tina Benko) and the man she’s brought home (Koteas) exchange bits of trivia. Urging each other to “tell me something I don’t know,” they offer facts about transmission fluid and the most popular names for baby boys. But the conversation soon turns to more sinister subjects, and Koteas lets his creepiness unfurl.
Jordan’s crafted a sturdy thriller and, with the help of director Nick Sandow, ornamented it with genuine scares and surprises. But it can’t quite overcome the fundamental unlikelihood that a woman, no matter how emotionally needy or sexually deprived, would continue to entertain Koteas’s character once he begins acting unhinged. We know that Jen has problematic taste in men—her ex-husband beat her and she prizes memories of her uncle John, “a bigamist, a robber, a possible back-room abortionist, and a bookie”—but how many red flags can she ignore? Benko’s lovely to look at and plays Jen with a sweet Midwestern drawl and lackadaisical sexiness. She hoards her own pathologies for the play’s end. Koteas, however, with his bullying presence and shambling line delivery, doesn’t make a secret of his menace, leaving perilously little space for progress or revelation. As the pair attempt their awkward courtship, Jen suggests, “Things’d happen faster if you laughed.” Indeed, if Koteas layered his performance with more ease and good humor, the evening might unfold not only faster but also more plausibly.