Logan (John Hawkes) and Veronica (Tracie Thoms) don't exactly meet cute. They meet awkward. They meet uncertain. They meet at cross-purposes. And they stay that way and don't stay that way in David Auburn's not entirely absorbing Lost Lake at Manhattan Theatre Club's City Center Stage 1.
Where they meet is in the lakeside cabin (J. Michael Griggs designed it well) that Veronica, a nurse with a career setback, is evaluating as the ideal place for a short getaway she can plan for her and her children. Logan owns the cabin -- occasionally occupying it himself and making necessary repairs -- and it's his to rent when and if he so desires.
In the two-hander's intermissionless 90 minutes, Logan and Veronica get to know each other. And Auburn's best achievement here is that he keeps the audience guessing whether they're going to become romantically involved. If they do won't be vouchsafed here, although it's fair to say that one of the play's funniest lines -- "You're kidding, right?" -- may or may not be a clue to that outcome.
Mostly, Lost Lake is about the many getting-to-know-you exchanges that take place between them. As the chatter ambles along, the information includes more about how Veronica got into her trouble and what Logan has done to put him in hot water with, among others, a brother.
The time covered extends from Veronica's first sighting of the cabin through her occupancy (the children never seen, of course) to a visit she makes the following winter because she's received a large sum of money in the mail from Logan and not only wishes to return it but is also concerned about his well-being.
Incidentally, that drop-in is preceded by a coup de theatre that could be the comedy-drama's most exciting occurrence. It won't be described, other than to say anyone who's dozed off during the many Veronica-Logan conversations will be jolted from their reverie when the whatever-is-not-being -described takes place.
Auburn -- whose Proof, which debuted at MTC, won the Tony, the Pulitzer and the New York Drama Critics Circle awards -- tips this work's intent in his title. The protagonists are two lost souls looking for ways out of their situations and needing assistance to make recoveries.
So this is one of those plays in which the metaphorically blind lead the other metaphorically blind to some higher, safer ground. Perhaps they don't lead each other to the highest, safest ground, but at least progress is achieved. As such, it's not the best example of the genre, nor is it the worst.
Also, as such, it's probably not going to put Auburn in the running again for any of the citations mentioned above. Considered with Proof and his last Broadway outing, The Columnist (being Joseph Alsop), it's a noticeable change of pace. Somehow, those works promise more from him than this mild offering delivers.
Daniel Sullivan, who's formed a meaningful and rewarding partnership with Auburn much like those he's forged with other contemporary playwrights, does well with the material he's been handed. He gets the right performances from Hawkes and Thoms. They're both expert at showing the way in which being tentative is often a primary personality trait. They make Logan and Veronica appealing to spectators even as the characters may not think as much of themselves or each other.