SALEM — After 35 years in the theater, John Fogle knows what to look for when’s he casting a play.
“One of the first things I say to myself is, can I watch this actor for two hours?” Fogle said. “Some people you can, some you can’t.”
This is especially a concern in “Reckless” by Craig Lucas, currently onstage at the Salem Theatre Company, where the main character appears in every scene.
“As a director, you say, there’s a lot of words here,” Fogle said. “She has to be able to handle very rapid dialogue with grace and style.”
While reading the script, Fogle realized that Nancy Gahagan, whom he had directed in a show two years ago, would be perfect for the lead role.
“As you read this character, you can hear her,” said Fogle, who encouraged Gahagan to audition. “I knew she had the right kind of sensibility. She’s bubbly, a bright light onstage — very easy to watch.”
Finding the right actors was only the first challenge in producing this play, which has an unusual plot that requires creative staging.
In the opening scene, the main character, Rachel, is telling her husband how much she loves Christmas, when an abrupt revelation changes their relationship and drives her out into the night alone.
“The plot is almost indescribable. It’s so loony that it feels real,” Fogle said. “We have staged it as a dream. The word ‘dream’ appears on almost every page of the play.”
More than just a metaphor, the play’s dreamlike quality affects the way the action unfolds.
“Dreams skip from one place to another without any justification or effort, so we’ve tried to make it that way onstage, too,” Fogle said.
It takes a coordinated effort to put that recklessness onstage, without creating a distraction.
“There’s an amazing dance going on backstage,” he said. “It’s all silent as a mouse.”
Not that Fogle ever tries to create sets or use props that exactly re-create the worlds his characters inhabit. He hopes instead to keep the audience focused on the message, rather than the spectacle.
“In theater, we like to give you a little and ask the audience to bring the rest,” he said. “That’s what makes it different from moviegoing. Movies just let it wash over you; in theater, you have to fill in the blanks. That makes it a different kind of audience experience.”
“Reckless,” originally staged in 1983 and then revised by the author, is a Christmas play that plumbs complex feelings about the holiday that only adults experience.
“We have memories of childhood,” Fogle said. “As adults, we’re always pulling those expectations out: ‘What’s this one going to be like?’ Well, it’s a surprise. That’s what this play embodies.
“It’s a 10-year search for the true meaning of Christmas. There’s always a battle in our lives between expectations and reality, and this comes into focus around the holidays. It’s a Christmas gift that will surprise and delight.”
In addition to Gahagan, the cast includes Cyndi Geller, Andy Lisle, Mitch Kyle, Meredith McAlister and Allen Vietzke, all of Salem; Giovanni Alibiso of Peabody; J. Garner Redmond of Boston; and Julie Cleveland of Gloucester.
The production staff includes Ariane Grossi and Linda Ross of Salem and Jean Fogle and Gregory Mancusi-Ungaro of Marblehead.
If you go
What: “Reckless” by Craig Lucas
Where: Salem Theatre Company, 90 Lafayette St.
When: Through Dec. 22, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets: Adults $25, seniors $20, students $10
More information: www.salemtheatre.com or 978-790-8546