By Lee Blessing
Directed by Olivia Allen
With Kat Stewart, David Whiteley & Trent Baker
Lighting by Dans Sheehan
Down The Road (July 10 – August 4, 2002) –Helen Thompson, The Age 16-Jul-02
Down the Road is Red Stitch’s seventh production for the year and once again provides a rare opportunity to see the work of another contemporary American playwright, Lee Blessing. In fact, this play could have come from any place where serial killing has frightened a community.
Blessing’s play is a thriller, a tense, scary three-hander that sustains its suspense to the very end. Journalists Dan and Iris Henniman are not being stalked by a killer. They have been employed by a publisher to interview and write a book about a killer: William Reach, who has been jailed for 19 murders. Yet even in the apparent safety of a cell, with Reach handcuffed and under surveillance, a sense of inexplicable evil is pervasive.
Trent Baker gives a splendid performance as the killer. He is cold, smug, contained and exudes a palpable air of self-satisfaction. Only rarely does he erupt in rage, but these outbursts successfully intimidate his questioners, particularly Iris, and control the proceedings.
It is no accident that Reach, whose victims were all young women, should most disturb his female interlocutor.
Dan (David Whiteley) and Iris (Kat Stewart) actually make a baby during the weeks of their seclusion in a seedy motel near Reach’s prison. This conception provides a powerful subtext of new life during the sickening process of hearing Reach describe his cold-blooded ending of so many young lives.
Blessing’s play consists of a series of alternating scenes between the couple, and between each of them in turn interviewing Reach.
He skilfully shows us how evil can contaminate goodness, love and trust, even when it has been apparently contained by imprisonment. Further, he reveals that evil can perpetuate itself not only by tainting other lives, but by recruiting them to its own ends.
It is fame that Reach now craves and the Hennimans are the means to his ends, not theirs. The book will make him a celebrity, and so the public appetite for sensationalism will also in a sense perpetuate his evil.
Whiteley and Stewart convincingly establish sympathy with the Hennimans’ decency and love for each other, and much of the play’s suspense is sustained by the subtle disintegration of their relationship, brought about by Reach.
His descriptions of murder are made terrifying not by exaggeration, but by his bland and brief descriptions of sheer horror.
Like the Hennimans, we come to understand that there is no possible control or reform or even anticipation of such things.