Welcome to Nowhere (bullet hole road)
nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
October 19, 2007
Welcome to Nowhere (bullet hole road), Temporary Distortion's deconstructionist take on the modern American road movie, is a captivating, hypnotic, and mesmerizing work of art, easily one of the best plays I've seen this year.
Although road pictures come in different forms (ranging from Easy Rider to Badlands to, well, Road Trip), a recurring theme in several is the paradox that being rootless and constantly in transit means you're simultaneously free and trapped. Free because you've escaped your rooted life, trapped because you're stuck with yourself, your thoughts and your memories with no release.
Welcome To Nowhere, a piece conceived and directed by Kenneth Collins that works as an experimental film, a play, and an installation piece all at once, beautifully captures the freedom, confinement, romance, claustrophobia, excitement, and boredom of driving cross country with no place to go.
The set, also designed by Collins, consists of tight transparent boxes in which the performers stand. The performers whisper fragmented dialogue—bits of conversation without context, monologues about past road trips—into microphones over ambient music. Above the performers' heads is a thin movie screen that shows images of desolate desert roads, the performers either in seedy motel rooms or driving, or sometimes just of the landscape. Sometimes the video imagery complements what the live actors are saying, sometimes it contradicts.
Having the actors whisper their dialogue with little to no emotion through an amplified method creates a fascinating effect: it feels like you're listening to thoughts, or hearing fragmented memories of conversation, rather than listening to conversations taking place in real time.
Collins's piece, with the help of an excellent ensemble cast, William Cusick's video work, and John Sullivan's music and sound, conjures all the familiar tropes and images connected with road pictures that are as familiar to me as the back of my hand. In fact, I'm willing to bet that many of these images and character types (The Trucker, The Hitchhiker, The World-Weary Hooker) are so familiar to many of us they inhabit our dreams. The feeling of being alone and rootless is impeccably captured here.
So, what's the play about? I'm not sure I can answer that in any conventional sense, but I'm not sure that matters. It has no linear story per se, but it's ultimately about drifters: people driving—or hitchhiking—aimlessly across the country to escape and forget their pasts, their identities, their mistakes in life. There's Hunter, a longhaired bearded fellow who constantly drives across the country to try to outrun his inner demons and past crimes. There's Wyatt, a young Southern man who is either running from or to a woman he loves. There are also the women in their lives, ranging from past and current lovers to prostitutes to fellow alienated vagabonds (of the four women characters, only two—Rose and Darla—are given names).
Sometimes these characters meet up in chance encounters and just...talk. They talk about the joys of being free, they talk about their last sexual encounters, they talk about what they're running from, and sometimes they talk about nothing in particular.
Some standout parts include a video interlude where an unknown woman talks about getting into prostitution after being repeatedly sexually abused by men, figuring if she can't stop it, she might as well make money out of it (all the while Jessica Grace Pagan delivers this monologue, Hunter is standing behind her and slowly "floating" closer towards her). In another scene, Hunter tells Wyatt a story about an old girlfriend of his (whose name he can't seem to recall) who tried to kill herself and whose parents refused to give him her suicide note, which is juxtaposed with a video image of a woman putting a gun in her mouth. I also particularly liked Rose telling the story of driving across the country non-stop so she could dip her fingers in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans while the movie screen shows an image of her crying in some rundown general store.
There's also a wonderful musical interlude where the cast sings a song about how, no matter how far or fast you run, your demons catch up with you (the lyrics are printed across the screen karaoke-style).
Everyone in the cast—Ben Beckley as Hunter, Stacey Collins as Darla, Brian Greer as Wyatt, Lorraine Mattox as Rose, Pagan as the Unknown Woman, and Stephanie Silver as the Girl—is great, fully embodying their roles. They all play their parts simultaneously as Types and as fleshed-out three-dimensional characters teeming with pathos.
Cusick's video images and Sullivan's sound and music on top of the live performances add to Welcome to Nowhere's thoroughly dreamlike quality.
Welcome to Nowhere is genuinely experimental theatre that is thoroughly engaging rather than alienating. I've never seen anything like this on the stage. Sure, I've seen plays that utilize non-linear storytelling, mixed- and multi-media. I've also seen works that act more as installation pieces than conventional "plays" before. But I've never seen something that employs all these methods that is so compelling, so haunting, so thoroughly absorbing. I loved this show.