The evil of banality

Down the Road

By Lee Blessing
Directed by Andrea Andresakis
Livin' Large Productions
Producers' Club (Grand Theatre)
Non-union production (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Down the Road is a deceptively difficult play. The story concerns journalists Iris (Lara Anne Slife) and Dan (Peter Whalen) Henniman, who have come to a cheap motel in a nowhere town to interview a serial killer, Bill Reach (George Antonopoulous), in connection with an upcoming book for an unseen publisher. Interwoven in the story are the couple's ongoing attempts to conceive a girl.

The play operates on many levels. The actors are constantly saying one thing and meaning another. Also there are non-straightforward methods of representation, as when Iris listens to a tape recorder in the stage-right motel room while Dan and Bill speak the dialog in the stage-left prison. Representation becomes less straightforward still when Bill starts appearing in the motel room, perhaps because he so dominates the couple's consciousness. The joint project, if it doesn't destroy their marriage, certainly tests it and leaves it irrevocably changed.

The actors and director were not up to the challenge of the text. Time and again the actors seemed not to be listening to each other, just waiting for a cue to say their own lines — to act rather than react. (Indeed, at one point Dan was making some point in their ongoing argument while apparently oblivious to the fact that Iris was packing.) The actors rendered the text with superficial, repetitive gestures: Slife ranging from an attempt to control to petulant; Whalen wooden, with constant weak hand gestures; and Antonopoulous with a sardonic smirk alternating with shouting. Without addressing the text, the subtext vanished. The director evidently did nothing to plumb the depths of meaning in the play. (It seems to be a common mistake in this play to let the serial killer walk around the visiting room, yelling, while his visitors sit impassively with their backs turned to him. No one in his or her right mind — let alone someone experienced in interviewing criminals — would let this happen. Just as no experienced journalist would visit a serial sex murderer with the three top buttons of her blouse undone.)

The motel-room set (Joshua Dunn) showed more taste than many other elements of the production, with lamps, a blue bedspread, and rugs. (The luggage, seemingly more upscale, was a precise touch, too.) The dreamy, sometimes threatening music (sound design, Matt Anderson) was apt to the sometimes internal, sometimes psychotic situations. Costumes appeared to be street.

The Grand Theater at the Producers' Club was appropriate to a depressing play set in a cheap motel: stale cigarette smoke (from the bar) permeated the space. Track lighting (Graham Kindred) as flat as Kansas echoed the monotony of the performances. To be untechnical, the space, and the production, had no soul. Whether the play has a soul remains to be seen.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 0
Acting: 0
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting 0/Sound 2

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Copyright 2001 John Chatterton