Over a long string of plays and films, Neil LaBute’s principal concern has been the distance between his feckless, feral characters and the ordinary norms of civilized behavior. His metier is stripping away the veneer of the educated and privileged to reveal the wickedness at their core, but there’s only condescension and embarrassment in his stab (definitely le mot juste) at the plight of high school slackers and suburban dead-enders in “The Distance From Here,” the kind of dramatic exercise tailor-made to spell trouble for a burgeoning company like the Shoreline Theater.
The opening tableau of a glowering, defiant Darrell (Blake Hood) tells us everything the rest of the play does, redundantly and at excruciating length. He’s a rebel without a cause and mostly without dramatic interest. Through a series of clunky episodes, we shift between his miserable home life and even more miserable peer interactions, moving toward an act of violence right out of Edward Bond’s “Saved” but nowhere near as justifiable or convincing.
Insofar as diction is concerned, endless repetitions of “Dude” and “Whatever” don’t compensate for windy monologues resembling nothing that anyone, of any age or class, ever uttered in real life.
Finding the right rhythm and intensifying the action seems as yet beyond the means of helmer Brian Frederick, who permits the incidents to lurch along as if this were a scene showcase with each thesp itching to grab his or her turn in the spotlight. Hood maintains focus through a dangerous stillness and striking presence, but by throwing all his punches (an irritated whine and offhand bravado) in Scene One, he has nowhere to go when his friends’ and family’s betrayals escalate.
Katie Featherstone brings inappropriate sorority-sister gentility to his knocked-about girlfriend, and the announcement that Cammie (Jocelyn Towne) is his mother raises eyebrows since she barely seems to have five years on him. The clean-cut mug and lack of tattoos on Cammie’s boyfriend Rich (Matt Berg) belie his status as a Gulf War vet. Only Shaun Anthony, as Darrell’s stammering, self-effacing best bud and rival, avoids stereotyping throughout.
Notwithstanding the impossibly fraudulent text, with a little effort and not much money the earnest Shoreliners could attend to key details and acquit themselves better. Pulling back the drapes left and right and setting up neutral masking would permit evocative entrances and exits, instead of actors’ endless fumbling with fabric and curtain rings that keeps taking us out of the action. Grungier attire for all, especially the kids, would diminish the sense of a fresh-faced, just-graduated (from SMU) ensemble.
A more prominent sign, currently lost amid designer David Offner’s wall of concert posters, would reflect the importance of placing action in a zoo’s penguin pool. And since that action depends on the believability of an infant, its offstage cries and gurgles should be made to seem less than 500 feet away, and the gym bag in which the tot is toted really ought to be given some weight.