Roadkill Confidential


Photo: Carl Skutsch
(L to R) Alex Anfanger as Randy, Polly Lee as Melanie, Danny Mastrogiorgio
as FBI Man, Greg McFadden as William and Rebecca Henderson as Trevor

Reviewed: September 13, 2010
Venue: 3LD
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission

Written by: Sheila Callaghan
Directed by: Kip Fagan
Set Designer: Peter Ksander
Costume Designer: Jessica Pabst
Lighting Designer: Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew
Sound Designer and Original Music: Bart Fasbender
Video Designers: Shaun Irons and Lauren Petty
Sculpture Designer and Animals: Jessica Scott
Wig, Hair, and Make-up Design: Erin Kennedy Lunsford

Production Stage Manager: Sunneva Stapleton
Assistant Stage Manager: Colleen M. Sherry
Assistant Director: Sarah Rose Leonard

Alex Anfanger as Frizzy Haired Man/Randy
Rebecca Henderson as Trevor Pratt
Polly Lee as Melanie Colander
Danny Mastrogiorgio as FBI Man
Greg McFadden as William Whiting/The Doctor

The Con Game in Roadkill Confidential

Sheila Callaghan's "noir-ish meditation on brutality" has an interesting moral and aesthetic knot at its core, about an artist living in a brutal culture using the means of that culture to inform its citizens about that brutality, only to become, in the process, as indifferently brutal as those she chastises. That artist is Trevor Pratt (Rebecca Henderson), the sculpture is built from animals she injures as she speeds down country roads, the situation she wants to condemn is the war in Afghanistan (with its own roadkill in the form of IEDs), the fatalities she causes include a nebbish lover and a nosy neighbor (both from tularemia, contracted from the animal carcasses) as well as her husband and step-son (by emotional abandonment).

But as the subtitle of the play hints, this is all treated very "-ish," that is, not with an entirely serious commitment to the moral forces at play in her story -- instead, we get an ironic arms-length attitude abetted by an overlay of ornamental technical effects (multiple video monitors, projections, etc.) and a narrator (Danny Mastrogiorgio as FBI Man) whose pastiche delivery of his lines, by sampling the voiceovers of old noir films, constantly reminds the audience that they're attending a sort of vaudeville show.

This is not to say that Roadkill Confidential doesn't entertain. Ms. Henderson signs off everything she says with a trademark snarl -- after all, this is a person who burst her way into the art world by using the photos of a dead woman in a car crash as an art installation, the mangled woman being the first wife of Pratt's current husband, William (Greg McFadden), an art historian who has hitched his academic career as well as his heart to the rise of Trevor.

Mr. Mastrogiorgio gives the cartoonishly drawn FBI Man what heft he can, as a man whose patriotic fight for justice (he even lost his right eye in the battle) is flummoxed by his growing admiration for Trevor's ruthlessness. Polly Lee plays Melanie Colander, Trevor and William's next-door-neighbor, with great energy, gradually revealing how her good-neighborliness is really an aggressive pitch for affection from an emotionally starved woman. Alex Anfanger gives Randy, William's son from the first marriage, non-stop voltage as the perpetually angry adolescent who has every reason to distrust the adults around him and the world they've created.

And kudos to the technical staff for the projections, video, lighting effects, and set design as well as to Kip Fagan's direction, which is sure-handed, inventive, and well-paced. Ms. Callaghan is served well by her crew.

Yet, in the end, it's not clear what the audience is supposed to take away from this "meditation on brutality." Both the off-kilter humor and technical tricks in the play displace rather than deepen an emotional response to the story, and by the end, when Trevor and FBI Man have their inevitable showdown, the action shades off into demonstrations about the whorishness of fame and the hypocrisy of making art, rounded off with an unsatisfying display of the actual roadkill sculpture as Trevor walks into a blizzard of photographers' strobes.

However, there is one moment in the play when Ms. Callaghan lets down her guard and goes simple, in a good way. When Trevor tells William that she doesn't want him to attend the opening, he reminds her that by giving her the photos of his dead wife "I took my hands off the wheel/I signed up for this./All of this." She responds by eviscerating him, turning him into emotional roadkill: " I'm, I'm sick./Sick of your intellectual postscripts./Your fame whoredom/Your cloying regard/And I'm so fucking sick/of being the one thing/that makes your career feel important."

When she finishes, one can feel the whole audience leaning forward, drawn into the scene by the strength of the writing and the honesty of the actors onstage and actually "meditating on brutality" as they watch William wither under Trevor's blast.

Trusting more of that and less of the tricks and gadgetry could make Roadkill Confidential the serious dramatic meditation on brutality Ms. Callaghan wants it to be rather than the theatrically skillful but emotionally remote exercise that it is.

Michael Bettencourt