Sunday, August 9, 2009

Review - On the Way Down (Ashberry Productions)

Review by Byrne Harrison

For people who are still in their twenties, the characters in Michael V. Rudez's play On the Way Down are facing a remarkably middle-aged problem - the sneaking suspicion that they took a wrong turn somewhere along the way and the lives they are living are not the ones they were meant to live.

Josie, Browning and Stevenson are old friends taking their annual trip to the beach. Having started out at Jones Beach in their youth, they've upgraded to East Hampton now that they are living somewhat more staid and comfortable lives. Something about this year's trip is different, however. First, Josie's husband Don decided to take the kids up by bus, allowing Josie some time with her friends. Second, and more disturbingly, everyone in New York City has decided, for some reason, to come to the Hamptons as well. Millions and millions of people, all in a relatively small area. Though never seen, their numbers lead to a crushing sense of claustraphobia, most notably affecting Josie, who already seems somewhat confused and on edge.

While the friends dance around what is bothering Josie, we find out about their lives and their past. Both Stevenson and Browning were Josie's lovers at one time. While Stevenson, an alpha male Wall Streeter, is happy in the life he has built for himself, even if it is different from the one the friends imagined, Browning is stuck facing backwards. He is still in love with Josie and spends his days remembering their time together. Josie is somewhere in between. She recognizes the good things in her life, her husband and children, but isn't quite sure how she went from being a carefree teen to a wife and mother.

Rudez's script is a bit difficult. First, he isn't going for easy answers. There are no facile explanations for what he puts on stage, no tying up of loose ends. His play seems to be creating an atmosphere, one full of loss and regret, more than telling a simple point-A-to-point-B story. It is at times confusing, but it is moving as well.

Lindsay Wolf is outstanding as Josie. A complex character under extraordinary pressue, Wolf wrings every bit of emotion and depth out of Rudez's script, and gives and incredibly moving portrayal of this surprisingly fragile person. Rocco Chierichella does a good job as the macho and somewhat boorish Stevenson. He is a less complex person, more than happy with the simple pleasures. Chierichella is best when playing off Wolf; they are extremely good playing friends who know just which buttons to push to get a reaction out of each other. Steven Todd Smith as Browning doesn't always seem to be fully present. In part, that may be due to the nature of the character; Browning seems to be an observer of life, more than a participant. However, a more nuanced performance could flesh Browning out somewhat and make him an equal to Josie and Stevenson.

Dan Waldron's direction is solid, though at times the play tends to drag and seems longer than its relatively short running time. Production elements are good, with Jessie Kressen's curtain-draped set being particularly noteworthy.

On the Way Down
Written by Michael V. Rudez
Direction: Dan Waldron
Sets: Jessie Kressen
Costumes: Campbell Ringel
Lights: Tom Bergeron
Producers: Michael Mraz, Michael Lister
Stage Management: Su Hendrickson
Assistant Costumes: Katie Gaughran
Technical Director: Nathaniel Kressen
Photography: Michael Bartelle

The Access Theater
380 Broadway, 4th Floor

Closed Aug. 9th

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