DOWN THE ROAD

By Lee Blessing (HotHouse Theatre Company)

Lee Blessing writes plays that get inside you and squirm uncomfortably, and one of his squirmiest is 1991's Down the Road. It is a harsh reflection on the mind and attitude of a serial killer, William Reach, played so fiercely in the HotHouse Theatre Company production by Marty Stanberry that it dries up your mouth, as he tells his story to a pair of married journalists, Iris and Dan Henniman (given artful life by Donna M. Parroné and Jerry Vogel).

We've been having to deal with a lot of mindless multiple murderers recently, the most prominent involving killer kids. One has difficulty understanding what impels their acts, unless it's the dreadful voices of schizophrenia that drove 15-year-old Kip Kinkel and got him, at 17, 133 years without parole at the hands of Oregon's citizenry. Blessing, however, presents a quite comprehensible, if nauseating, motivation for his murderer -- something that finds expression in Hannah Arendt's phrase describing Adolph Eichmann's effect: "the banality of evil."

It's also comprehensible why two reporters would agree to ghostwrite an "as-told-to autobiography" of such a person -- money and fame motivate a great many folks. What is puzzling is how one of the pair begins unhappy with the project but gradually becomes enthusiastic, whereas the other, gung-ho at the beginning, finally cannot cope with the viciousness of the criminal.

Director William Grivna elegantly paces the long act that comprises Down the Road with such skill that one barely notices how very talky the play is. Gene Fuller's set, moving between a blowsy motel room near a superhighway and the interview room of a prison, provides a usefully cheerless ambience. But what gives this production its impetus is Stanberry's performance as the killer, no more human than a virus, seeking whom it will destroy.

 
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