When husband and wife journalists Dan and Iris Henniman spend weeks interviewing convicted serial killer, rapist, and kidnapper William Reach for a book they’ve been commissioned to write about him and his murders of nineteen women, it has a dramatic impact on them and their relationship, as they begin to consider not only his motivation, but also their own, along with the ethics of satisfying the ego and contributing to the fame of a confessed psycho-killer, as well as those of a public that is hungry for dark and disturbing true-crime stories of such horrific violence and evil.
Presented by GoodBadGroup for a limited Off-Off-Broadway engagement at Arts on Site, Down the Road, by playwright Lee Blessing, contains graphic descriptions of murder and sexual violence, inspired by actual past events in the news. Under the direction of Christian Ryan, the intense three-hander delivers all the suspense, revelations, and psychological insights, with performances that capture the development and emotions of the characters and the implications of the story in our society at large.
The narrative moves back and forth between the motel room where the couple is staying and a table in the prison (simple and efficient set design by producer and technical director Richie Radici) at which they conduct their interrogations of the incarcerated killer, who has been denied his last appeal and has nothing left to lose. But can his gruesome and cold-blooded tell-all accounts be trusted, or is he just embellishing the facts and hinting that there’s more to the story, in hope of a sequel publication down the road that will further cement his infamy and place in history?
In the roles of Iris and Dan, Quinn Jackson and Zachary Desmond are at first loving in their interactions and successful attempts at engendering a baby girl (intimacy direction by Stephanie Sutherland), and excited about their joint assignment, on a subject with which she’s had more experience and about which he’s a bit nervous. But as the story progresses, they become increasingly argumentative and oppositional, and their attitudes move in different directions, once they see, hear, question, and record the killer (a term he prefers to murderer, since “murder has motives”) and try to unravel the truth about what he did, why he did it, and whether or not they should benefit from it. He haunts their thoughts and manifests in their room; Iris tries to escape the stress by obsessing about a discarded hot water heater on a porch opposite their window (a parallel of our throw-away culture to the disposing of victims), and Dan by driving down the local highway (contemplating its relationship to the rising national murder rate since the road system’s construction, by providing an easy route to transport and discard them).
The outstanding Jack Alberts turns in a chilling portrayal of the calculating unrepentant killer Bill Reach, smiling, laughing, and licking his lips, manipulating his interviewers and setting the rules for what he will and won’t discuss, losing his temper when pressed, suddenly appearing in their motel room as a phantom in their minds, making direct eye contact with the audience, and giving everyone the creeps with his detailed recounting of the brutal murders and his cavalier attitude.
Costumes by Aine Hegarty define the status and situations of the characters, while a menacing soundscape by Misho Georgiev, with voiceovers of the tape recordings, and ominous lighting by Patrick Moriarty, with sudden blackouts and looming shadows, contribute to the alarming mood.
GoodBadGroup’s provocative production of Down the Road is as much an indictment of remorseless killers as it is of a society that is fascinated by them and their shocking crimes. It will leave you contemplating the conscience of both.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without intermission.
Down the Road plays through Sunday, November 19, 2023, at GoodBadGroup, performing at Arts on Site, 12 St. Marks Place, NYC. For tickets (priced at $54, plus fees, including one drink, an hour before curtain time or after the show), go online. Masks are not required.