White Bear Theatre, London – until 11 February 2017
Guest reviewer: Laura Thomas
Serial loser Mitch (Robert Moloney) flees his doomed marriage, past the still smouldering wreckage of his car, and takes the Fried Meat Ridge Road. Walking ten miles in the dark; the small ad offering a flat-share being the only shred of hope and light remaining, in the train wreck that is his life. Exiled from his home in Maine (‘Is that even a state?’ he is asked) he is at the end of the road, figuratively and literally.
At first it seems that a life that can’t get worse, does. His flatmate, JD (Stevenson himself), is a deluded simpleton, the promised accommodation is no more than a share of a seedy motel bedroom. His neighbours are a carnival of white trash clichés, the doomed and beautiful crack head Marlene (Melanie Grey), her psycho boyfriend Tommy (Dan Hildebrand) and creepy landlord Flip (Michael Wade).
Slowly their stories come into focus, through a series of absurdist tableaux, and the ever patent JD emerges as the unifying force behind this small community of the lost and broken. The writing takes us from farce to tragedy and back again within a few lines. The metaphysical nature of the piece emerges, initially mocked by the sceptical Mitch, but JD remains steadfast in the face of mounting chaos, risking all to keep hope alive within his small community.
Bizarre, hilarious and heart-breaking, this is a shrewdly observed modern morality fable with a killer twist. Stevenson, a native of the beautiful and historic state of West Virginia, paints his characters with care and love.
This is not an easy work to perform. There is a fine line to tread, to avoid sliding into the merely ridiculous, but time and time again this company hits its mark. The performers are outstanding, as one might expect from such an experienced cast, not only because of their individual excellence, but also reflecting the generosity pf spirit and support of their fellow players. There are no weak links. No wasted words. Every move, every syllable, has a place and purpose. And every line spoken has an impact. These are actors listening to what is being said to them. And JD takes the lead, ever willing, ever patient.
The production has, and uses quality, in-depth that is rarely seen in small theatres. Set, casting, lighting, effects and sound are all first-rate.
The play, the London premiere of a cult fringe theatre hit from the US, has only a short run in this recently refurbished and comfortable pub theatre, and is sure to sell strongly. Advance booking is recommended.