The biggest challenge Thunder and Lightning Ensemble face with their revival of playwright Adam Rapp’s “Red Light Winter” is competing with the memory of Steppenwolf Theatre’s universally praised premiere production, seen in this city just two years ago. Indeed, that original staging, directed by its author, was so good it earned the Chicago native Rapp a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work and the complete original cast a ticket to New York to remount the show Off-Broadway. But whether or not you saw “Red Light Winter” the first time around, and especially if you didn’t, director Chris Arnold’s brutally funny and genuinely affecting revival for T&L is certainly worth checking out. “Red Light Winter” concerns a pair of college friends, as different as night as day, traveling through Amsterdam. After picking up a prostitute, the men engage in some comically machismo dick-measuring and intellectual one-upmanship, creating a dark love triangle that sees its arresting denouement a year later. Rapp’s keen ear for snappy and sexy dialogue is at its sharpest here, and the slackerdom shenanigans quickly give way to sustained scenes of touching tenderness with real emotional stakes. At its best, “Red Light Winter” sees the thirty-something angst dramedy reach an all-time high, replete with high quality writing and characterizations guaranteeing that future revivals—such as this one—can only unearth new dimensions and resonance to its themes of friendship, unrequited love and the need to live affirmatively in the present. Finally, the casting couldn’t be better. Andy Hagar is the play’s emotional anchor playing the sweetly sardonic and self-deprecating intellectual uncomfortable in his own skin. The striking Sadie Rogers, with gorgeous lips that would make Mick Jagger green with envy, is equal parts sexy and sympathetic. And Andrew Carl draws upon his natural boisterousness to make his character appropriately irritating. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Trapdoor Theater, 1655 W. Cortland, (773)332-9939. Thu-Sun 7:30pm. $10-$15. Through September 9.