On the Way Down
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 31, 2009
The press blurb for Michael Rudez's new short play On the Way Down says the play poses the question, "how far is too far to go to save someone's sanity?" Accurate as far as it goes; but for me, this sad and somewhat enigmatic drama is more about the examined life and what happens when you become disappointed with the person you see in the mirror and can't find a way to transform that image into one that's more like the one you'd wished for years ago.
Josie and her two male friends Stevenson and Browning have known each other for a very long time. It's clear to the audience very quickly that both men are, and have for a long time been, in love with Josie. They've come together, as they do every summer, at a time share in East Hampton. Though Josie is married with children (her husband, Don, is also a longtime member of this circle, and he and the kids are on their way to join them, traveling by bus), she enjoys her time with Stevenson and Browning as a respite from her daily grind.
But it's clear that this time, something is amiss. Josie, who is played with attention-grabbing precision by Lindsay Wolf, is just barely in control of her emotions. The beach is crowded, wall-to-wall with people, which seems more portent than salient fact. Tension is palpable, yet these two men who care about Josie don't do the obvious things to get at what's bothering her. Later we'll suspect that they already know, and they will execute a plan of action, or at least allow one to be executed.
Rudez's script is filled with surprises and details, many of which finally seem like red herrings, and meanwhile the back story of these three people is only fragmentarily disclosed for us. I was left wanting more information about them and how they arrived at this particular moment in their lives.
What's pervasive is the sense of dissatisfaction, of insufficient accomplishment, of incompleteness and incompletion. Josie, we are told, is just 27 years old (presumably her friends are about the same age). I felt sad contemplating these three characters who are near or at the end of their ropes so prematurely.
Dan Waldron's staging is reasonably taut. Wolf is the dominant personality and force on stage (though by the end of the play it occurred to me that Browning rather than Josie is probably the protagonist of the drama). Steven Todd Smith takes the role of Browning but I didn't feel the fully three-dimensional man emerge from his portrayal. Rocco Chierichella is solid as the less complicated Stevenson, a Wall Street analyst whose adult lifestyle is apparently at odds with the ideals of the friends' youth.