B y J a n a R i v e r a
IN DOWN THE ROAD, playwright Lee Blessing sets forth a theory: We (normal, non-voilent folks) are partially responsible for the violence that besets our society. We provide the forum. We take a man like Ted Bundy and turn him into somebody after he murders a string of women. He offers us gory details such as teeth marks on necks, and we, in turn, offer him fame. We write books about him and make a movie portraying him with Mark Harmon's good looks and charm, and he receives hundreds of support letters in prison, including marriage proposals from young women.
This is not an original perspecive. My own experience occurred more than 18 years ago when vendors outside the Utah State Fairgrounds were hawking Gary Gilmore T-shirts. Gilmore, you'll remember, was the charming convicted killer from Provo (played by Tommy Lee Jones in the movie, and written up with a note of sympathy by Norman Mailer in The Executioner's Song) who somehow rallied half the state in support of keeping him alive after he announced that he wanted to die for his crimes.
This lack of originality doesn't mean the topic isn't worthy of exploration in the theatre. But blessing forces us to wander a long way "down the road" before we reach the theory. He then proves his point. We are so bored by most of the play, we can't wait to hear the supposedly eerie serial killer spew forth the morbid details of mutilation and mayhem. We hang on every grisly word, and there you have it. We've now given credence to the killer. Point taken.
a.k.a.'s production of Down the Road features Martin Chandler as Bill Reach, the serial killer with a list of at least 19 victims, and David M. Felix and Delani D. Cody as a husband-and-wife-journalist team, Dan and Iris Henniman, sent to write Reach's book-length story.
During the assignment, the Henniman's reside in a dreary motel room nestled in a strip of gas stations and fast-food joints. Their uneasiness with the assignment to write about Reach is compounded by their desire to have a baby and Iris's pregnancy. As the weeks wear on, Reach slowly begins to affect their lives as they obsess over his motives. Iris discovers she needs justification for what she's doing (besides money and future book deals) and assumes that if she can tell the why of it instead of just the when, where and how, writing the book will somehow be warranted. The team begins to break apart when Reach refuses to talk about his past, reminding them that the publisher and the public want nothing more than the gruesome details of murder and rape.
Cody delivers a polished performance as Iris, a part calling for extremes of emotion, and her emotions and doubt about Reach and the project ring true through every scene. Felix's portrayal of Dan, however, is bland. Felix delivers a speech about the rise of serial killings coinciding with the construction of U.S. highways as if he's reading from an encyclopedia.
Chandler convincingly portrays the violent side of Bill Reach every time he explodes with anger and vulgarity, but most anyone can be menacing when they're yelling. He is unsuccessful in relaying the quiet, evil layers that must lurk within the serial killer. We're never convincingly inside this cold-blooded murderer, and a character that should be sending disquieting chills down our backs is instead simply reading lines in a play.
Blessing's play is made up of a series of short scenes that need to move quickly. But director Noel Chester has slowed them down, giving us several seconds of darkness to contemplate--which we don't need--before moving onto the next scene. Down the Road wants to be a hard-hitting, fast-moving play that pops the senses, but it isn't.
a.k.a's production of Down the Road continues with performances Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through July 9. a.k.a. is located at 125 E. Congress. Tickets are $9, general admission, $7 for students, seniors, and artists. Call 623-7852 for reservations and information.
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