Leave it to Chaz Bono to play a creepy, fame hungry, serial killer on stage and get away with it – beautifully!
Luckily I had some distance with this production. Sitting in the front row might be hard to take if you are not completely in love with the classic sociopath a la Silence of the Lambs storytelling genre.
It gets gnarly pretty quick in Lee Blessing’s Down The Road, skillfully directed by Jordan Shappell, where Bono plays, William Reach, a serial killer serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison for the murders of 19 women.
Experienced husband and wife crime-writing team, Iris (Barbara Howling) and Dan Henniman (Kyle David Pierce) are on assignment to get Reach’s story for a soon to be published autobiography.
It’s an intense psychological drama, the skin crawling “ick” factor amped as tensions mount with each interview separately conducted at the prison, by either Dan or Barbara. Reach begins to penetrate both people’s emotions and thoughts until the closeness with the subject, the living space, the isolation and Reach’s manipulation of them both bring out the worst qualities in the couple, and they find themselves fiercely divided, on what parts of Reach’s story is real or fabricated for fame. Iris obsessively battles against Reach’s ever inflated claims as Dan sides with him and both have to combat Reach’s tirades for control as well as with each other on the issues of journalistic truth.
Originally commissioned and produced at the La Jolla Playhouse and then produced in the 1991 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville, the beauty of this current rendition is that it lives perfectly in the small intimate Lounge Theatre space, yet far elevated above mere black-box expectation.
Chaz Bono has inextricably immersed himself in Reach becoming a true centerpiece of this production such that it is impossible to separate the actor from the character. (Even Reach would gleefully approve.) Barbara Howling and Dan Henniman dance steadily around Bono and put in interesting performances although never really take the deep dive into the material in quite the same way as Bono who really caps it. Nevertheless, it’s a stellar production of Blessing’s provocative play, very much illuminating the frightening mind of a serial killer.