In a culture where our media can make anyone into a "reality star," what are the ethics of turning a serial killer into a celebrity?The question is raised in Odenbear Theatre's new …
In a culture where our media can make anyone into a "reality star," what are the ethics of turning a serial killer into a celebrity?The question is raised in Odenbear Theatre's new production of Lee Blessing's 1991 play, "Down the Road." The psychological thriller, directed by Odenbear founder Jim Hatch, follows Dan and Iris Henniman, a married couple given the writing assignment to help imprisoned killer Bill Reach tell the story of his crimes.
As the interviews progress, the two writers find themselves on ever shakier moral ground.
Performances are today through Saturday (Sept. 20-22) and Sept. 27-29 at 7:30 p.m. Matinées are planned Sunday (Sept 23) and Sept. 30 at 4 p.m. All shows are at Metta Theatre, 1470 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in El Prado.
"I like Lee Blessing as a playwright," Hatch said. "I've always liked his plays. And this one is something that affects us all. When I was first looking at this play, it was a time when the news here in Taos was full of people disappearing, and that was very emotional. I was disturbed by the stories of missing people, and like so many of us, I felt the desire to keep everybody safe. The frequency of serial killers has increased over the years, and people need to know that very often these killers appear as 'nice guys,' attractive, even charming. All of this is stated in the play. You're inside the guy's head. And then there's the morality issue about publicizing them, making them celebrities. Do we really read this stuff, or are we mindlessly consuming it?"
Hatch's three actors are relatively new to the stage. Kristopher Messick, who plays the killer Bill Reach, is better known to Taos audiences as "one-man rock band" Laguna Munta. Renea Been and J. Josh Still play the conflicted writers, Iris and Dan Henniman.
"Josh Still does a terrific job playing Dan. The character is really taken in by the serial killer, and you can see how Reach manipulates the situation. It's accomplished in an interesting way, in that it's being staged to indicate that he's repulsed but fascinated at the same time. The couple finds out some things along the way, and at different times one or the other wants to quit because it's just too stressful. Josh is new to acting. He's done more poetry and music, but he is willing to learn. All three of these people are wonderful. They're very hard workers and just lovely people to work with. It's a real pleasure."
"Kris plays this serial killer who's taken the power of life and death into his hands. I've known Kris for years, and he's really intelligent. He got it immediately, that it has to be played as a nice guy. I read him with the rest of the cast and he was just stunning. He's doing absolutely good work. The trap for an actor with this type of role is to want to play the evil part of the character, but he stays on track. He talks about his deeds like, as Iris says, 'He could have been talking about stripping a chair.' We only rarely see him explode."
"I had seen Renea Been at a play at Taos Onstage, 'The Language Archive,' and thought, 'Wow, she's got something here.' So when the part came up, I talked to her. She's terrific. I just feel very lucky that I've got these three lovely people to work with. They all like each other. It's a congenial atmosphere; there's a lot of laughing."
Been recently relocated to Taos from Abiquiu and has appeared in two Taos Onstage productions. "I play Iris Henniman, a successful journalist who writes true crime books. She's experienced in working with murderers, but this is her first time interviewing a serial killer," Been said. "What I enjoy about Iris is she is focused, ambitious, intelligent and searches for the truth. She writes in a genre tainted by sensationalism, but her experience with Reach changes her. I think his coolness reflects her own objective coolness, which she has relied on and has been rewarded for in her previous journalistic projects. I hope to convey her strength, vulnerability and resignation to this role. I'm looking forward to seeing the audience react to this play. It is frightening on many levels and offers a poignant message to our society."
"It's a very well-structured piece," Hatch said. "It has a very complicated sound plot. I have transition sounds from interrogation room to the motel where they're staying, sounds that enhance the anxiety. And I'm lucky to have someone as skilled as Thomas Gatti assembling sound cues for me."
"I'm not making a formal 'season' these days. I book the space and go from project to project, and that way the reason I'm doing any play is simply because the play is so impactful that I really feel compelled to do it. 'Down the Road' is cutting edge. It's not the kind of thing you get to see very often. It will scare you and move you. It's great entertainment, and you get an opportunity to see three phenomenal new actors doing amazing work."
Tickets are $15. For more information, call (575) 303-0774.
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