New York | 1h 30m | Already closed

The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois

From 17 critic and 37 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Slow, Absorbing, Intense, Thought-provoking

About the show

Atlantic Theater Company presents Adam Rapp's new play about an adolescent abandoned as an infant who meets her mentally ill father for the first time. More…

Ellis Shook lives alone in a small duplex apartment in Kentucky. He works nights buffing floors, keeps to himself—except for the occasional game of Monopoly or Yahtzee with his neighbor—and always remembers to take his medication. When two teenage girls arrive at his doorstep one afternoon, their visit forces him to confront a tragic past while also offering him a glimpse of hope.

1h 30m | Already closed | Atlantic Theater Stage Two (Chelsea)

Theatre Reviews Limited

"There is intrigue, surprise, shock, confusion, and a redemptive vision of unconditional and nonjudgmental love. The audience needs to engage in every delicate moment of how Mr. Rapp’s extraordinary characters embrace their engaging conflicts to spin a tale of healing and release...This is a brilliant ensemble cast that exercises its collective and individual craft without reserve or trepidation. Adam Rapp’s direction is remarkable and brims with intensity and subtlety." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"Incredibly detailed writing and acting make this new play a must-see…A virtuoso four-person cast…To say there’s not a weak link is an understatement; every single moment in the show is compelling, organic and truthful. The detailed acting work matches, even perhaps surpasses, Rapp’s exquisite writing. This cast is devastatingly believable...It oscillates between being howlingly funny and profoundly sad. This emotional rollercoaster of a play will not disappoint." Full Review

Let's Talk Off-Broadway

"'Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois' is a tense, brilliant drama that takes you from the worst to the best...The acting and directing are extraordinary...Rapp uses brutality not just for sensationalism, but to take you to a deeper understanding. The sense that we ourselves may be at fault, that we’re too quick to think the worst of others, heightens the impact of the stunning, breathtaking ending. I felt changed." Full Review


"What may be surprising is how utterly moving this work turns out to be…The play really starts to hit the heart when Monique retreats to Ellis’ bedroom, letting the estranged pair begin to reconnect. Rapp and his two main actors make it clear just how difficult that sort of rapprochement can be…This play shines its own bright light on the universal difficulty of having an honest relationship with the people we value most." Full Review


"Rapp's most substantial play in several years...The plot gradually emerges through a series of skillfully distributed revelations...All of the actors deliver beautifully well-worn performances...As a slice-of-life drama, 'The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois' succeeds on all fronts. It's a welcome return to form in the case of its author, whose earthbound writing has always had the essential power to shock and move without any unnecessary embellishments." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"A compact, affecting drama…Playwright Rapp also directs, and does so with glowing simplicity. There are no histrionics, no hearts worn on sleeves. Emotions speak for themselves, needing no embroidery. All the actors are right on point, never overplaying…Except for the tussle between Ellis and Monique, not much happens in 'Purple Lights.' A father and daughter reunite but there are no violins. The drama’s straightforwardness–both in the writing and the playing–causes it to really hit home." Full Review

Epoch Times

“Playwright Adam Rapp eschews his usual shock effects and bleak visions of the future and instead goes for something softer and more intimate...Apps expertly plays Ellis as a man who is walking on eggshells...A powerful look at a man teetering on an abyss, his desperate efforts to keep his balance, and those around him struggling to understand, ‘The Purple Lights’ is both thoughtful and touching.” Full Review


"Adam Rapp’s 'The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois' is a 'little' play in that its ambitions are small and its dramaturgy is rather straightforward. Having almost no story, it is ultimately a character study of troubled people trying to deal with the hand they have been dealt. It does offer naturalistic acting that makes the play compelling even while it doles out its revelations in tiny doses." Full Review


"The four actors are adept at playing the kind of troubled souls that are Rapp's stock-in-trade...In the early scenes, the playwright fakes off his audience...It's a coy dramatic mannerism that serves to delay the audience's emotional engagement. Much about 'Purple Lights' conforms to what one expects in a play by Rapp. There are misfits, ruffians, and malcontents...There's also something here that's sweet and noble and, finally, redemptive. And that's a welcome surprise. Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"To my great surprise, I found it both involving and touching…The playwright directed with assurance. The play has some slow moments. If Heyward were not such a stage presence, I would have found her character an annoying cliché. Barrett’s role is a bit underwritten. Despite its shortcomings, the play succeeds in taking us to a place that we probably never wanted to go while getting us to care about someone we would rather dismiss." Full Review

The New York Times

"Rapp’s sentimentality bursts out of the dark, dank closet with his latest effort. Directed with a tender touch and a refreshing respect for silence by Rapp...This juxtaposition of the exotic and the banal is clearly meant to elicit strong emotions for the audience. Yet the script often feels as inhibitingly self-conscious, suggesting a class writing assignment dutifully carried out by a precocious pupil who would rather be working on something else." Full Review

Time Out New York

"It helps to have vivid dialogue, an unpredictable plot and a meaty theme. In 'The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois,' Adam Rapp has only information. Although he withholds it with some skill, I wish there were more going on here than mere suspense...'Purple Lights,' well acted and creepy, feels like a writer noodling over his first draft, not diving deep into a subject...Rapp directs his own script with careful detail, giving actors permission to nibble scenery." Full Review

Front Row Center

“With no especially deep meaning to this work, to spell out the plot reversal that takes place is to leave little left to enjoy...Mr. Apps turns in a quietly powerful performance, transitioning Ellis from ominous loner to damaged soul, changing the nature of how we worry about him. Ms. Reis, too, finds warmth and sympathy in a role that starts off cold and silent. But Ms. Heyward fails to find any depth, or much-needed humor, in Monique, making her an irritant on stage.” Full Review

Act Three - The Reviews

"Some will applaud Rapp for tackling the topic of mental illness in this manner. Some, like me, will simply not enjoy the idea of being entertained by it. It felt more like a required summer reading project that was meant to be discussed afterward....With only a few moving performances, 'Purple Lights' left me feeling empty, worn-out, and ready for a drink. Perhaps Rapp should focus on writing or directing. Doing both removes a creative mind from the theatrical process and the work suffers." Full Review

Orange County Register

for a previous production "Every fresh detail alters our feelings about the characters. We are made to balance monstrous crimes against mitigating factors, struggle between feelings of condemnation and compassion, and ultimately recognize the heroism in every character. It’s an amazing and artfully convoluted journey – the work of a playwright firmly in control of his powers...Under Cripsin Whittell’s careful direction, the actors all find the right balance with complex and contradictory roles. Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

for a previous production "This is one of those plays told in real time in which secrets are revealed at well-paced intervals, not for dramatic surprise or narrative manipulation but to provide a means for the audience to share the various perceptions of all the characters as each appalling truth is exposed...In short, an auspicious unveiling of a new text that expands the author's range and should continue to build an afterlife for itself, just as it offers the modest prospect of the same for Ellis and Catherine. " Full Review

Stage and Cinema

for a previous production "As for 'The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois,' the set-up, extraordinary characters, and interesting situation end up inconsequential and unbelievable...It’s really a very small play stretched out to 85 very long minutes...Crispin Whittel’s direction is deliberate, but he called forth some lovely nuances from his game cast, who were all at the mercy of repetitive information, one-note dialogue, elliptical conversations, and extraordinarily unsympathetic characters." Full Review

Absorbing, Exquisite, Funny, Great acting, Must see

See it if You love a show that plays with emotions and leaves you wanting for more

Don't see it if You hate live plays.

Clever, Great acting, Edgy, Great writing, Thought-provoking

See it if Adam Rapp is the greatest playwright of all time. I would score all of his plays on here above a 90. See this show!!!

Don't see it if If you are looking for a musical. I can't think of any reason not to see this show. Wish I could write more.

Intelligent, Riveting, Relevant, Great acting, Great writing

See it if you're interested in a gut-wrenching play about a man with severe mental illness.

Don't see it if you're looking for something light.

Original, Resonant

See it if Like me, you love Adam Rapp and his sorely damaged characters who while unfamiliar, are recognizable as human to the core.

Don't see it if You want action and an upbeat plot involving "normal" people who don't have bad days or feel frustrated or think about killing themselves.

Edgy, Excruciating, Powerful, Strong performances

See it if You are ready to test your own perceptions and values - it allows you to consider your own sense of risk, courage, fear, and honesty

Don't see it if You are in the mood for something traditional, comforting or light

Also Tense short play concerns a man who struggles to function while living... Read more Read less

Intense, Original, Great acting

See it if you enjoy great acting and the promise of redemption.

Don't see it if you don't like blood (sorry spoiler!) or language!

Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting

See it if You like well drawn edgy characters

Don't see it if you only like mainstream entertainment

Intelligent, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Dark, Intense

See it if like slow building stories with intense emotional payoffs. beautiful performances from the cast

Don't see it if you're not patient or want a lot of action

Absorbing, Intense, Thought-provoking, Intelligent

See it if you like theater that requires patience as the story unfolds. You're expected to wait and learn what the characters are all about.

Don't see it if you don't want to engage in the story of troubled people.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Quirky, Edgy

See it if you like something slightly unusual but easy to get into, family & redemption stories, secrets revealed, characters not encountered before

Don't see it if you need everything explained right up front, have trouble with characters who may have done bad things, don't like yelling or silences

Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Intense, Moving

See it if you are a fan of Adam Rapp's work and enjoy intense, character-driven plays.

Don't see it if you prefer plot-driven plays or are uncomfortable with damaged characters in extreme emotional states.

Great acting, Great staging, Slow, Relevant, Dark

See it if You're an Adam Rapp completist; you want a character study with uncommon characters in uncommon scenarios.

Don't see it if You don't want a play that almost feels like a documentary. It's less of an escape and more of a reminder of cold reality.

Intense, Sad, Absorbing, Hopeful, Slow

See it if You want to see an unconventional family drama with good acting. Story is a bit episodic where it should be organic.

Don't see it if You are squeamish about mental illness.

Absorbing, Confusing, Great acting, Edgy, Quirky

See it if You like quirky stories about psychotic people

Don't see it if You aren't open to mental health issues

Absorbing, Author directed a minus, Slow, Good acting, Resonant

See it if Heavy situations involving mental illness.

Don't see it if Have no patience with a slow pace. Authors directing their own work.

Absorbing, Clever, Entertaining, Slow, Resonant

See it if You enjoy stories about people, family, relationships, told by a great cast.

Don't see it if You prefer more fast-paced stories.

Great acting, Original, Thought-provoking, Slow, Uncomfortable

See it if You like shows about mental illness,broken families and rebellious teens Are OK with criminal situations Like to feel uncomfortable

Don't see it if You dislike foul language Are under age 16 Find severe mental illness uncomfortable to watch Dislike hideous crimes

Absorbing, Edgy, Intense, Slow, Thought-provoking

See it if you like small theaters

Don't see it if you are closed minded

Original, Thought-provoking, Quirky, Intense, Disappointing

See it if You like quirky characters dealing with mental illness.

Don't see it if You don't appreciate stereotyped characters inserted into a play to create unnecessary drama that could have arisen in a more authentic way.

Clever, Intelligent, Quirky, Refreshing, Cliched

See it if You are looking for a fresh night of theatre. Heart wrenching and endearing story.

Don't see it if You want a light story. It's dark but not the usual Rapp experience.

Unconvincing, Unappealing, Uncomfortable, Unending, Unenlightening

See it if you have endless patience for sloooow exposition. And for not-to-be-believed plot points and inconsistent characterizations.

Don't see it if you want the option to leave; it's performed with no intermission so you're held hostage. An unpleasant hour and a half, with little payoff.

Disappointing, Banal, Slow

See it if You like a 1 hour 26 minute show to feel like twice that length. Or like slow moving shows with 2 minutes of a psychotic violent episode

Don't see it if You want to stay awake, as the story is very slow-moving and feels like something a kid would write.

Ambitious, Enchanting, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent

See it if You enjoy great acting

Don't see it if You don't like does with titles that don't really mean anything.

Thought-provoking, Original, Intense, Quirky, Mediocre

See it if You like quirky character dramas about mental illness.

Don't see it if You don't appreciate stereotyped characters inserted into a plot to create drama that could have come organically.

During previews
Absorbing, Great acting, Must see, Thought-provoking, Intense

See it if You like very good acting in a drama with emotion and surprises.

Don't see it if You don't want to be emotionally moved.

Cast & Creatives (11)