In David Auburn’s Lost Lake, now playing at City Center in an MTC production directed by Daniel Sullivan, two ramshackle lives intersect at a ramshackle lakeside cabin.
Veronica (Tracie Thoms), a medical professional from the city, rents a cottage upstate from Hogan (John Hawkes), a disheveled local ne’er-do-well, to enjoy some respite from urban life’s pressures. But it’s in rough shape, and so is he. (Designer J. Michael Griggs renders the cabin-iest cabin you’ll see, replete with peeling paint, timber, and taxidermy.) Hogan promises many repairs and improvements but, unsurprisingly, doesn’t deliver. So they squabble, and squabble, and eventually reach a grudging accord, surprising themselves and each other by confessing to failures and regrets in a late-night soul-baring session.
If things stopped there, Lost Lake would be an enjoyable, if slight, character study about unlikely comfort found between unlikely friends. But Auburn, clearly feeling pressure to inflate the stakes in the final act of this new work, pushes to an emotional climax that overburdens the play’s wispy premise and the characters’ fragile connection. It’s all well-acted, and Hawkes expertly shepherds his character from shambling nebbish to volatile mess, but you wonder if those momentary sparks of unexpected communion were a more profound — and more true — achievement than the ending’s predictable convulsions. Like its floundering protagonists, Lost Lake ends up losing the plot.