Long Way Down
Reviewed by Dana Martin
Collaborative Artists Ensemble at the Sherry Theatre
Through June 18
Small-town family struggles weigh heavy as Nate Eppler’s Long Way Down finds a hard landing at North Hollywood’s Sherry Theatre. The Collaborative Artist Ensemble’s production struggles to strike the right balance between the darkly comedic and the deadly serious, resulting in unintentional silliness.
The story follows a struggling family in small-town Tennessee. Childlike Maybelline (Meg Wallace) shares close and crumbling quarters with her shrewish sister Saralee (Christa Haxthausen) and castrated brother-in-law Duke (Lane Wray). Saralee promptly reveals plans to sell the family home, ousting simpleminded Maybelline.
Enter absentminded criminal and sometime friend-of-the-family Karen (Lauri Hendler), who easily cons susceptible Maybelline into hiding a freshly kidnapped baby, claiming the baby had been beaten by her mother. She reveals her own plan to use the rundown homestead as baby-saving central. Maybelline, swayed by fantasies of her own idyllic family, complies. The two hatch a somewhat inexplicable scheme to kidnap and re-home babies whose parents crazy Karen deems unfit, branding it a “mission of mercy.” Conveniently, she works at a daycare. Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife, cause they snatching all the babies out there.
Lane Wray provides an appropriately pathetic performance as unintentionally existentialist Duke, a man who actively avoids any semblance of adult responsibility. He finds moments of emotional connection, though the performance arc itself is unclear. Christa Hauxthausen is relentlessly insufferable as the self-proclaimed matriarch Saralee, demanding of others yet callous and uncaring about her marriage, her family and her home. This woman is completely unlikable — nothing remotely vulnerable or redeemable about her.
Lauri Hendler finds little variety as pesky zealot Karen. What you see it what you get. Her actions, no matter how mundane or outlandish, are executed matter-of-factly, and so it’s really no surprise to find her digging a hole in the middle of the living room floor. Hendler is the most aware of the comedic elements of the play, which none of the other actors seem to volley. Meg Wallace’s performance focuses on the innocence and naivete of protagonist Maybelline. Her behavior suggests that she is simpleminded, though the play reveals that she suffers severe mental and physical trauma, much of which is repeated throughout the play. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if Wallace explored the root of this character’s mental deficiency as well as it’s resurfacing.
I was left with several questions about the plot which made the play as a whole difficult to decipher. Comedy? Thriller? Horror? Sit-com? All of the above, perhaps. What is clear is that this family is doomed, cracked at the very foundation, slipping further and further into a deep, dark hole.
Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.; through June 18th. http:/longwaydown.brownpapertickets.com/ or (323) 860-6569. Running time: one hour and 25 minutes with an intermission.