Road, by Jim Cartwright, was first done at the Royal Court Theatre in the mid-'80s and has been done as well in New York at LaMama with Joan Cusiack. Almost a rough-and-tumble version of Wilder's Our Town, this Road is pure theatre. It breaks the rules and is as non-conformist as anyone can possibly ever want on the stage at any given time. It may irritate a few, anger some, and to those who see theatre as something more than a live-action TV show it may actually stun. Given the production that director Zachary R. Mannheimer fashioned, the results were vivid, hypnotic, and shatteringly truthful. His band of actors, coupled with his skilful hand, only made the experience all the more urgent and powerful.
The play used a pre-show setup, an intermission that required the audience either to dance or go out and buy a drink, the breaking of the fourth wall, and distancing technique where the characters commented about what they were doing in the scene. It was clear that anything could happen, and, like life, it frequently did. At the top of the actual play, Scullery (Pete Barry) announces he is taking the audience on a journey "door to door" of the inhabitants they meet on his road, because it's theirs as well. And for the play's nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time, the audience meets the poverty-stricken, angry, and desperate inhabitants that Carwright like a circus ringmaster brings to life in funny, sad, and biting ways. In mostly nonlinear fashion, Cartwright starts a story, finishes it or doesn't, has characters crash in on other characters' stories, and shows humanity as most people wish never to see it. But as with most good writers they couldn't help but watch.
The cast, headed by Barry, was topnotch. Never self-indulgent, always game, and taking enormous risks, Stephen Brown, Naomi Joy Gallagher, Lauren Hinden, Adam P. Matyseck, Laura Christine Nelson, Mellisa Rhoads, Jeffrey Simno, and William Vonroth III performed as if they were tightrope-walkers without a net making the boldest, bravest choices imaginable. Mannheimer's directing was lucid and focused and allowed the audience to see real behaviors as opposed to indicated ones.
Amy K. Wowak's lighting set a perfect tone, and the uncredited costumes were strong as well. The set consisted of a bare stage with props brought in and out.
It's a joy to have seen good theatre, and one of the biggest joys was to watch an audience experiencing real, uncompromised theatre. Almost like a deer caught in headlights, the audience sat there amazed, delighted, and absolutely horrified by Road. Not necessarily in that order.
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Copyright 2001 Andrés J. Wrath