As one of America’s more penetrating and sociological playwrights, Lee Blessing delves into a topic that will leave most people drained and their thoughts spinning: serial murderers and the country’s thirst for them. Directed tightly and astutely by Charles Towers, with an imaginative set design by Mark Wendland, “Down the Road” offers top theater craft, powerful performances, and much to mull despite an abrupt ending.
Iris and Dan (Nanci Christopher and Robert Desiderio), a husband-and-wife writing team, try to start a family while they tackle a book about a confessed murderer of at least 19 women. For both projects, they live in a motel room 10 miles “down the road” from the prison. The tug-of-war interviews with killer William Reach (Markus Flanagan) eat at their souls, their lives together and their sense of society.
Blessing paints a portrait of the world where freeways whisk so many faceless people past, where books about true-life tragedies are mere commerce, and where a man drives into the darkness of a countryside, his latest victim next to him, her mouth taped and her very breath his possession.
Blessing investigated the sense of family in “Independence” and here presents “pre-family,” asking, what kind of world are people bringing their children into? “In the decade of the 1950s,” Dan says, “before completion of the interstate, there was only one case of serial murder reported in the United States. In the whole decade, just one. Now, one a month.”
Flanagan, nearly always in profile, brings a calculated steeliness to Reach that grabs hold of his interviewer’s — and audiences’ — psyches.
Desiderio and Christopher aptly struggle with the information and each other, showing a heightened sensitivity to the world. Their characters, however, are shortchanged by a blunt ending that offers no resolution to their own future and life they’re making.
The set’s simple black, white and gray design reinforces the material, as does Rand Ryan’s light design, particularly when a set of windows go blood red. Sound, an important element in the play, is superbly designed for by Philip G. Allen. Erin Quigley’s costumes add well to the whole.