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A CurtainUp Review
Down the Road
By David Lohrey
Lee Blessing has written several distinguished plays, including his best known piece A Walk in the Woods and the more obscure, but noteworthy, Eleemosynary. Down The Road comes to New York having been produced some ten years ago at such regional venues as California's La Jolla Playhouse (1989) and The Actor's Theater of Louisville (1991). Because of its short run, this is a report on the play rather than a full review of the production.
Blessing's artistic achievements are such that his missteps and artistic failures deserve respectful treatment, rather than dismissal. Unfortunately, this Blessing project, on view at The Producers Club, would tax even the most fair minded among us. One can only assume that this play is no longer a work in progress. This actually comes as a great surprise because it has the look and feel of something in the early stages of development.
Down the Road suffers from excruciatingly banal writing. It is not that Blessing's story is without merit. A young couple, commissioned by a publisher, has come to town to conduct a series of interviews with a notorious serial killer currently residing in the local state penitentiary. Gradually, each becomes interested in, and indeed absorbed by, the project to a degree neither had anticipated. So far, so good, you say. And you would be correct, for it is a good set-up. It is, as they say, a promising start. Alas, in Blessing's hands, this is all we get. This is it. Instead of an intense treatment of the couple's relationship with the killer, Blessing offers this truncated beginning, padded out with domestic digressions, heavy-handed junkyard symbolism, and confessional monologues recited as poetry into a handheld recorder.
The two married reporters throw the whole thing away in the opening three minutes of the play. Dan shows no interest in interviewing the killer, in publishing a book, or in any of the activities his wife Iris attempts to discuss. Instead, Dan suddenly starts panting and pawing at her like a dog in heat. But when she responds, he kisses her face the way Jerry Lewis used to slobber over Dean Martin's. Why would this blandly good-looking woman, married to a galumph with a hard-on, allow herself to be manipulated by a serial killer? If she is willing to drop everything whenever her husband opens his fly, why would she consider halting their lucrative research project for fear it might result in making the killer famous? It is not that horny people can't be moralists, too, but one wishes to know the source of such dilemmas. (Unless this is Blessing's idea of satirizing modern liberalism's penchant for glow-in-the-dark condoms and moral paralysis.)
As written, our killer is more ashamed of being under-employed than of having slit the necks of 19 women. This psychological quirk once established is played out scene after scene between him and Iris. Iris has to know why; he finds the subject too hot to handle. Gradually, we come to wonder why this fascinates her, when it is surely his neurosis that should draw our attention. But then she has other interests that remain unexplained, including an abandoned water heater lying in view of her motel window. This fixation may or may not be related to Dan's adoration for highway signs, but neither functions to reveal character with sufficient clarity to move the audience.
What this play needs is two sharp acts to replace the single bloated one currently on view.