We've all been there: Stuck in traffic or on a road trip that's taking longer than was originally promised, with just one other person in the car. Conversation can be forced, unexpected, candid, aloof, shocking, dull or a mixture of any of the above.
Neil LaBute, a playwright who never shies from characters whose actions and/or words most would consider unthinkable, explores the art of the two-person automobile conversation in his 2004 play Autobahn. It's having an area premiere in an astutely acted production by Heavenly Muse Players at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival.
The play is a cycle of six short, two-character plays. Here, director Daniel Foster has chosen to do just five of them. Sometimes, notably in the first and fifth works in this production, "Long Division" (with actors Roger Schwermer and M. Serrano) and "Autobahn" (Maria Zsohar and Jose Quinones) either the passenger or driver doesn't say much or anything at all. And in the others, "Road Trip" (Jonathan Pollei and Delaney Beckman), "Bench Seat" (Gene Gallerano and Ali Faulkner) and "Merge" (Cassie Shea Watson and Daniel Foster), the two-way conversation ranges from hysterically uncomfortable to strange and creepy.
Spoiling each of the scenes' paths would not be fair, but in LaBute fashion, they capture some aspect of human folly, although not always as dark as we've seen in much of his work, especially the early material. The show is filled with nuanced, bold and even outrageous performances—not so easy when each scene is two people sitting the entire time—from a group of thespians I haven't much of before.
Pollei, playing one of the darker roles, gives the award for saying as much or more when he's not talking as when he is, and the interplay with Beckman is lovely. In "Merge," Watson has the most outrageous monologue to deliver, and Foster's reactions, right up through the end, are priceless.
But that's not as funny as "Bench Seat," in which we think that the character played by Gallerano has the upper hand, until Faulkner turns the tables in completely recognizable ways.
LaBute fills the dialogue with awkard pauses, and at times the show feels slow, those pauses feel right. In LaBute's traffic, the rush-hour slowdowns and those moments of reckless behavior are what keep the journey thrilling.
◊ To see a complete schedule of shows and venues, go here.
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