nytheatre.com review by Matthew Trumbull
August 13, 2006
Roadside, Maryland, the eponymous setting of this play, is an isolated, depressed little burg. Such is the opinion stated by Austin (Dana Berger), a young waitress, to George (Paul Whitty), an extremely jittery older man who cannot keep his eyes off her, and is now on his third straight day of visits to the diner where she works. Sound a little sketchy? We have but barely begun. He begins to dig further into her life, wanting to know her likes, dislikes, gossipy items she's heard about other patrons. Not used to the attention but not at all averse to it, she gets flirty, comes onto him in the john, and gets rebuffed. Wanting to smooth things over, he takes her to the candy store, and then home to her trailer, continuing to ask highly personal questions about her past but refusing all of her advances.
Playwright Forrest Simmons has written a dark, psychological suspense dialogue, in a very Sam Shepard vein, with two strange people oddly drawn to one another in a God-forsaken corner of America. Events do not drive this play; the engine is the slow interrogation they subject each other to. Tension is meant to build to a pay-off that can unfortunately be seen coming after ten minutes.
But in the meantime, there seem to be so many reasons throughout the play that Austin, no matter how desperate, would run the other way from George and call Roadside's Finest. She never does this, but she does enter from the kitchen of her trailer with a knife at one point to cut herself—her emotionally destructive habit when times get tough, though the cuts must be very tiny, or recent times very good, as her bare arms seem to be without a scratch. George, meanwhile, is high-strung, twice her age, and travels with two comfort objects: A stuffed monkey that he hangs around his neck, and a large hammer dulcimer that he brings into Austin's trailer to impress her with his rendition of the 80's hit "Steppin' Out". Desperate people will go to strange lengths to combat loneliness, but there is enough of an independent streak to Austin, manifested in her solo trailer and steady job, that though she may be lonely, I can't believe she is dense enough to be unaware of the many warning signs that George has issues aplenty, and a girl might not be safe with him.
Berger finds a sweet and funny charm as the twangy-voiced Austin, and she is the bright spot of the evening. Unfortunately, sloppy blocking by director David Thigpen muddles a climactic exit at the end. It is perhaps meant to indicate the character leaving the trailer, but the exit is out the same direction that Austin goes to change clothes and get a knife. If the exit is meant to be all the way out of the trailer, a door effect could go a long way to a more understandable end to an often perplexing evening.