On Sundays Gothamist runs opinion pieces relevant to life in New York and reviews of recent books and performances. The judgments expressed below are entirely those of the author.

2006_05_arts_darkyellow.JPGI tried to find a less clichéd way to put it, but it really is apt to describe Julia Jordan’s new play Dark Yellow as an emotional rollercoaster – both for the audience and, clearly, for the actors. As with any rollercoaster, there are a few stretches when there seems to be nothing to see, much less the thrill of an upside-down loop or vertical plunge, but when those come they’re exhilarating, and after it’s finished the play as a whole stays with you, continuing to rush through your veins, demonstrating Jordan’s already considerable, and doubtless still growing, talent.

On top of the rollercoaster metaphor, the show’s dynamics also closely mirror the theater where it’s staged, the tiny, gorgeous Studio Dante – with both, you feel wonderfully intimate one moment, terribly claustrophobic the next. After a gripping introductory section that quite literally leaves you in the dark about what’s happening, the action zeroes in on a man and woman (Elias Koteas and Tina Benko) who have, it gradually comes out, go back to the woman’s place after her bartending shift ends. He is a stranger she picked up at the bar – or did he pick her up? The mystery and tension between them – sexual, of course, but also intellectual and then something with even deeper and more elemental – is palpable; Koteas nails the portrayal of the man as a greasy, less-than-hunky yet confident and undeniably magnetic type, the perfect foil for the woman, skillfully interpreted by Benko as a beautiful but lonely, evidently desperate romantic (though the character is slightly marred by the odd accent Benko affects). The setting is a small town in middle America where there’s not much going on but corn growing, though both characters find some attraction in it despite the boredom. The two have agreed not to reveal any personal information, but they play a “game” of “tell me something I don’t know,” in which they toss out seemingly random bits of trivia that in the long run add up to an extremely personal conversation, and this night-long conversation/contest is the play. Their banter is notable both for the striking, unexpected things that are said and also, perhaps even more, for what is left unsaid but that Jordan gives us to understand via the characters’ careful choice of words. Before long the audience, at least, knows quite a lot about the two, even if they are still struggling to figure each other out and grasp what’s happening.

With most rollercoasters, you can see what’s up ahead and anticipate the rushes of fear/nausea/ glee that you’re about to get, or you were able to see the whole thing from a distance while you were in line; Dark Yellow keeps you guessing, for better and worse, about what’s really going on and who’s telling the truth at any given moment, which is why I’m reluctant to reveal much more as far as the plot, which, aside from the pair’s sexual interplay and negotiation of boundaries, inescapably revolves around the shocking murder that happens in the introductory scene, which is not mentioned again for a long time but which the audience certainly can’t help but have in mind. At a few points the absence of an advance view becomes distracting because of how it can tend to rob the characters’ behavior of clear meaning in the present, which is when things start to drag on a bit. But more often the pace is appropriately fast and the mood suspenseful, with energy crackling between the two actors. Dark Yellow raises a lot of philosophical questions – at times too many – but it is also bound to earth by the touching humanity of the characters and the way they shift and develop before your eyes over the course of their long evening. As on a rollercoaster ride, it leaves one rather wrung out, exhausted in the end by so many rapid changes in perspective and information, but glad to have gone through it; and in contrast with a rollercoaster, it also leaves one with some things to mull over after it’s finished, both as far as the actual events of the story that’s unfolded and in terms of the underlying architecture of uncertainty and yearning that structures the man and woman’s lives and this revealing, doomed but touching encounter they have with each other.

Studio Dante // 257 W. 29th St. // Through June 17, Wed.-Sat. 8pm // Tickets via Smarttix // Photo by George McLaughlin