Lee Blessing may be well-known to most for such works as A Walk in the Woods and Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music, but most are unlikely to know his 90-minute one act, Down the Road. Having first premiered at California's La Jolla Playhouse in 1989, the play pre-dates the O. J. Simpson trial, but discusses the very kind of sensationalism that made O. J. an immortal figure in the world of crime. The play is perhaps more in line with Roxy Hart's climb to fame in Chicago, as this killer is hungry for the fame that will come when a married team of writers finally publish his gruesome history of 19 murders.
Iris and Dan, played with clean, natural intensity by Esther Barlow and Robert DiFalco, have camped out at a modest motel near the penitentiary, while they take turns visiting with serial killer "Reach," who has approved the writing of a book about his killings. Greg Konow was properly imposing and dangerous as Reach. He was equally funny in the surreal scenes when dreaming of how his story can be improved to make a better sell -- perhaps even a movie. It is Iris's question, finally, of whether or not the book will expose the nature of serial killers or inspire others to take the same horrible path that was the center of this well-paced, well-directed production by Devin Scott.
As the main question of the play approaches, there is an interesting dichotomy between scenes describing Reach's stories of death and the couple's forthcoming child, for which they are dreaming up baby names. When Reach describes the killing of a child, Iris's fervor for the project takes a turn -- will it be her child someday at the mercy of a serial killer? Although previously overwhelmed by the constant talk of killings, Dan is suddenly more intrigued than ever by Reach's bonus information about an undocumented murder. A sudden character turn comes when Dan's hunger for his own coup de théâtre takes over just as Iris is debating the moral ramifications of their act.
The lighting, by Andrew Rothschild, though limited in Theatre 54, did well at supporting the mood and style of the play. His interview chamber at the penitentiary was not the well-lit room of reality, but a mysterious, blue-lit corner, shadowed with broken light. The motel-room scenes were brightly lit with the addition of cracked, ancient motel room fixtures hanging from above. Later, when Reach enters into the couple's personal psyche, the lights of the motel room became a golden glow, emanating from the side and below. The costumes, uncredited, served the purpose well and had the unification of color that helped to make a sparse set (also uncredited) connect to all the technical elements. John McCullough's sound gave the play a proper feeling of desolation, while giving even the transitions between scenes a point of view.
The Bridge Theatre Company, comprising former Neighborhood Playhouse associates, have banded together to give themselves a voice on the stage, and they have done it with a tight, well-acted production of this topical play.
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Copyright 2005 Michael D. Jackson