Theater Review – Down The Road – directed by Shannon Ouellette
Studio Two Theater – 08/12/12
Florida Atlantic University – Boca Raton, Florida
What becomes a murderer most? Well, attention for one. After all, why slice and dice if there’s no one left to appreciate your artistry? Yet, if you do pull back that dark curtain and invite others in to witness your atrocities, will they ever truly appreciate what you’ve done?
No, these aren’t easy questions to ask, and they’re even more difficult ones to portray in Lee Blessing’s three person play titled Down The Road. Presented by FAU’s Alpha Epsilon Beta Chapter of the Alpha Psi Omega National Theater Honor Society, this is the story of a married couple, Iris and Dan Henniman, who seek to co-write the true life story of serial killer Bill Reach. With compact, split-level set design that allowed the actors to effortlessly flow between the killer’s jail cell and the writers’ hotel room, wonderful accent lighting that brilliantly demarcated reality from dream states, and precise, sharp direction by Shannon Ouellette, this was an exceptional choice to close this season’s student theater line-up.
At the heart of this challenging story is control: control of ones world, what’s in it, and what we try to leave out. For the world is made of both the magnificent and the atrocious, and most mortals are ill equipped to handle either extreme of this spectrum for long. Exquisitely portrayed by Taylor Jacobs, it all begins with Iris Henniman, a woman who has spent her professional career interviewing murderers and rapists not for the fascination of their deeds, but as a means of exorcizing their intrusive grip on her concept of normality. Through the act of interview, she neuters and dissects their gruesome inhumanity as a means of shoring up her own frail and cloistered visions of reality. Yet, while Taylor Jacobs keenly interpreted her tormented character with a sense of vulnerability leashed beneath the veneer of a cast iron outer frame, we learn there is a price to be paid for tickling the dragon’s tail as, in the end, opening that door to hell just a crack will ultimately invite the devil into your thoughts, your bedroom, and even your dreams.
Matthew Morrell eagerly embodies Iris’ husband, Dan Henniman, who having never played in the field of the heinous before, starts out as an innocent co-author and understudy to his wife. Not unexceptedly, it is Matthew’s character who falls prey to the corruptive influences of the serial killer’s spell and Dan at once is both innocence lost and evil attained, yet with just enough gee-whiz left inside for us to feel compassion for him. Innocence is, perhaps, one of the most difficult roles for any actor to play, as it requires one to repossess the very thing we all studied at school to lose. Whereas a seasoned, professional actor might end up looking foolish or banal in such a role, as a student actor, Matthew still retains enough seminal naivete to really be the innocence he portrayed. And this elusive quality that Matthew displayed is what makes student theater – that brink between the dusk of amateur acting and the dawn of professional thespianism – so enchanting as the actors can actually be their characters by merely being themselves.
And then there was Doug Wetzel. A fine arts major like the other honor society students, Doug is somewhat older than his twenty-something compatriots, yet no less attractive. His maturity, sculpted physique, and strength of character make him the perfect juxtaposition to his younger, less time-traveled stage mates. Doug eerily manifests Bill Reach, a man who’s dementia is so ingrained that he entertains imaginary, nameless victims beyond the nineteen women he has already killed, in the hopes of there being a sequel to his first biography which the Hennimans have yet to write. But there is already too much evil in Bill, so much so that it reaches into the Henniman’s lives, their marriage, their unborn child, and their future together. Doug was both convincingly repulsive and overbearingly debonaire to the point of making me nervously laugh while squirming in my seat.
So how good was this play? Let me put it to you this way. I’m don’t often shmooze with the actors after the performance is over. They’ve done their job, now it’s time for me to go home and do mine. However, on the way out, I just happened to run into Doug Wetzel talking to some of his friends. A few moments ago having been the personification of murder, he now stood outside the theater still dressed in his prison costume, replete with handcuffs dangling from one wrist. When I stopped to congratulate Doug on his performance and mentioned that I’d be writing a review of the play, he was very gracious and appreciative that I’d attended. He then asked for my card. As I retrieved one from my bag and handed it to Doug, I suddenly realized that I was actually afraid to give it to him.
Don’t miss the opening 2012-2013 student theater production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at FAU’s Studio Two Theater from August 31st through Sept 2nd. For more information, contact:
Department of Theatre and Dance
Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters
Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Road, Boca Raton FL 33431
Box Office: 800.564.9539