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Down the Road

It is not a play about the motivations behind a killer's acts. It is about what happens to rational, focused people when dealing with psychopathic evil.

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Zachary Desmond, Jack Alberts and Quinn Jackson in a scene from Lee Blessing’s “Down the Road” at Arts on Site NYC (Photo credit: Andrew Patino at Ursa Creatives)

[avatar user=”Scotty Bennett” size=”96″ align=”left”] Scotty Bennett, Critic[/avatar]

There is a place down the road, past the drive-through of a hamburger stand and beyond a row of gas stations. It is a brightly lit place of soul-searing darkness a few miles from the edge of a small town somewhere in the United States. An encounter in that place will forever change the lives of two journalists as they attempt to explore the recesses of a killer’s mind.

Lee Blessing’s Down the Road is a tale that explores what can happen when “normal” people are confronted with the psychopathy of evil in the form of a charming, ego-centric serial killer. Skillfully directed by Chris Ryan, the story introduces a husband and wife writing team that their editor has assigned to do a book about a notorious killer responsible for the deaths of at least 19 women.

It is not a play about the motivations behind a killer’s acts. It is about what happens to rational, focused people when dealing with psychopathic evil. It is that examination that this production gets right from the slow unraveling of the couple’s relationship with each other to the emotional and intellectual seduction of the killer. It is an engaging, chilling look into a heart of darkness.

Dan and Iris Henniman enter a motel room in which they are destined to spend the next several months. They are freelance journalists with very different approaches to their craft. Dan (Zachary Desmond) is a business journalist whose only experience with criminals has been with financial crimes. On the other hand, Iris (Quinn Jackson) has written extensively about violent crime and the people who commit it.

Quinn Jackson and Zachary Desmond in a scene from Lee Blessing’s “Down the Road” at Arts on Site NYC (Photo credit: Andrew Patino at Ursa Creatives)

It is the first time they have worked together on a project, and the possibility of that becoming an issue is evident in the opening scene as Iris explains to Dan how he should approach interviewing the killer.

IRIS: So – you think you’re ready?

DAN: As I’ll ever be.

IRIS: You can’t let him get to you. That’s the main thing.

DAN: I know.

IRIS: We don’t want him to clam up. We’d lose the book.

William Reach (Jack Alberts) is the serial killer on death row. He has agreed to have this book written because he wants his story to be told his way. It is his way of ensuring his immortality. He is attractive, charismatic, well-spoken, and approachable, allowing him to get women to accompany him. He does not consider himself a murderer but acknowledges that he is a killer.

IRIS: Your fourteenth murder –

REACH: Killing.

IRIS: Killing?

REACH: Murders have motives.

Zachary Desmond and Jack Alberts in a scene from Lee Blessing’s “Down the Road” at Arts on Site NYC (Photo credit: Andrew Patino at Ursa Creatives)

Desmond and Jackson provide strong characterizations of people changing their views of themselves and the people with whom they interact. Desmond and Jackson start from the point of being a supportive and understanding couple working as a team to one of estrangement and separation, replacing their collective focus on the specifics of the project with a more diffuse view of who they are and what they are doing. Their performance in the opening scene lacks a strong emotional tension to their personal and sexual dynamics. It is a subtle hint of detachment that plays against one of the vital elements of the play. This developing dynamic is better left until the introduction of the Bill Reach character.

Jack Alberts gives a chillingly engaging portrayal of a psychopathic serial killer. He shows a seductively charming man who has no moral center and believes himself to be in complete control of the story he is telling. Killing women is a matter-of-fact action for him. Alberts seamlessly shows the character’s emotional range from a detached nonchalance of recounting, in detail, each of the killings to petulant anger when certain questions are not to his liking. The shifts in the portrayal are executed skillfully, with the changes from one emotional state to another happening in a flash. The performance compares favorably with Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecter.

Richie Radici is not only the producer and technical director but also the set designer. The set has two elements: a motel room on the edge of shabby and an interview room in a prison. They both generally work well, but the television in the motel room is on the floor in some scenes, which is not likely to be the case in even cheap motels. Aine Hegarty’s costume design is authentic to the period, but there are not enough costume changes to fit the changing timeline. More costume changes will give a better sense of time and place in this case. Surprisingly, sound design is an important element in this show since the characters use old-style cassette machines in their interactions. Misho Georgiev does an excellent job of shifting the playing of recordings to live dialogue. Finally, lighting is critical in moving the action from scene to scene in a small venue with two sets. Patrick Moriarty provides effective design and direction for the show.

Down the Road (through November 19, 2023)

GoodBadGroup

Arts on Site NYC, 12 St. Marks Place, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit https://www.goodbad.group/downtheroad

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

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About Scotty Bennett (77 Articles)
Scotty Bennett is a retired businessman who has worn many hats in his life, the latest of which is theater critic. For the last twelve years he has been a theater critic and is currently the treasurer of the American Theatre Critics Association and a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. He has been in and around the entertainment business for most of his life. He has been an actor, director, and stage hand. He has done lighting, sound design, and set building. He was a radio disk jockey and, while in college ran a television studio and he even knows how to run a 35mm arc lamp projector.

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