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|A CurtainUp Review
Down the Drain
By Les Gutman
When I read the advance publicity for Down the Drain, I rolled my eyes at the debauchery of it all: adobe theatre, with its track record for irreverence, tackling the Susan Smith story as a "dark comedy". Smith, you will recall, is the woman who stirred up her small Southern town, and the rest of the country, by first tearfully reporting that her two children had been kidnapped by a black man, only to later confess that she had killed them by rolling her car with them inside into the local lake.
Stanton Wood did a lot of research for this script, and it shows. The names have been changed (to protect the innocent, I guess) -- Susan Smith has become Annie Wilson (Tami Dixon), but few of the salient stones have been left unturned. There are, it occurs to me, three paths that could have been followed here: the advertised dark comedy, an American tragedy a la Williams or O'Neill or a documentary. What made it to the stage is the last, and probably least interesting, of the three. Anyone in search of sick humor will have to wait for another day. Other than casting a rather large man, Nick Phelps, as one child and a doll as the other, there are very few efforts to elicit laughter.
Viewed as a documentary, other than being a bit "overly complete" -- that is, long on detail, especially in the second act -- it's not at all bad, really. The first act forms a neat circle that informs our understanding of the unanswerable question -- why? The second plays out the unraveling of Annie's story, and the deleterious effect it has on her family and community.
Chris Jones has provided a particularly useful set design, which accommodates the play's documentary-style interview splices (think, in parody but without the humor, Woody Allen) and mini-Greek Chorus (think How I Learned to Drive) quite nimbly. His evocation of the lake is especially smart.
Performances, from a cast of seven playing 25 characters (not counting the doll), are uniformly very good, never veering into the kind of campy histrionics that I would have, frankly, expected but not appreciated. Paul Zablocki's direction is deliberate, but never fussy, and does a fine job of choreographing the movement of people and props on and off the stage. Tami Dixon keeps Annie brittle and scared, both lustful and starving for affection. As her husband, Daniel, Zach Shaffer is sometimes sensitive, other times oblivious and later confused: all, as it turns out, good choices. Janice O'Rourke, as Louise Collins, Annie's aloof, often irritated mother, is on target as is Molly Renfroe as the betrayed AP reporter, Judy Neville.
Down the Drain may have missed its stated target, and adobe may have veered from its usual niche (both the playwright and the director are, atypically, outsiders to the company), but good theater requires trying different things and taking chances. When you attract attention with a wacky show like Duet! (linked below), and follow it up with a shock romp called Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children, that apparently means toning things down a bit. So be it, but now back to the nonsense, please.
LINKS MENTIONED ABOVE
CurtainUp's review of Duet! A Romantic Fable