nytheatre.com review by Nathaniel Kressen
September 10, 2010
In Roadkill Confidential, a government spy tracks a fatal outbreak of "rabbit disease" to a small upstate town. There he discovers Trevor Pratt, a famous installation artist, assembling her newest exhibit out of fresh roadkill. He notes everyday examples of cruelty in her behavior, and tries to determine whether she is attempting to develop a biological weapon. It seems anyone who touches the exhibit-in-progress falls deathly ill. As his surveillance stretches on, however, he becomes increasingly invested in the contradictions of her personality.
Trevor is intelligent yet sociopathic, upset by the deteriorating humanity of her country yet unable to show empathy for anyone. She retreats to her barn-turned-studio far into the woods, at one point remarking that she spends more time with the dead animals than she does with her own family. When she discovers FBI Man's surveillance camera, she takes the opportunity to confide her secret paranoias and make references to the darker agenda she suspects he is seeking. Connected by this sort of digitalized love affair, each of them longs for the inevitable moment of face-to-face reconciliation.
Sheila Callaghan's script is primarily concerned with the role of cruelty in contemporary society, especially how its prevalence in the media numbs us to its appearance in our daily lives. Each of the characters has a history of violence that determines the way they interact with one another. For instance, the first wife of William, Trevor's current husband, was killed in a head-on car crash. Trevor shot to fame after exhibiting photos of the crash, dragging William and his son Randy along for the ride. Years later, William obsesses over the concept behind Trevor's work rather than its subject matter, Randy is willing to do anything for another taste of the spotlight, and Trevor continues to torture them both. By constructing similar character dynamics throughout the script, Callaghan seems to tell us that making violence a commodity brings unforeseen consequences, most notably the deterioration of basic human empathy.
To emphasize this viewpoint, war footage is shown on a series of television monitors facing the audience. Trevor admits to being obsessed with the news reports, unable to reconcile the growing number of casualties with her own safe existence. At one point she opens her mouth as if to scream at her happy-go-lucky neighbor, and instead a news anchor's voice lists the day's fatalities. In response, the neighbor asks her to talk about something "real." In one scene William delivers an art theory lecture, and we learn of an art installation where a starving dog was tied to a gallery wall to reflect the viewers' own inhumanity. Roadkill Confidential seems to continue that discussion, juxtaposing the selfish obsessions of its characters with reminders that a war is being fought halfway across the globe to ensure those very freedoms.
While the script of Roadkill Confidential offers its audience much intellectually, at times the production feels frustratingly disjointed. Footage on the television monitors rarely adds substance to the live action, more often distracting from important moments onstage. Projected scene titles are drawn from lines in the script, but prove inconsequential to the action. News reports are enjoyable, but their overly cinematic delivery proves difficult to reconcile in the context of the play. One aspect of multimedia does yield immediate results, and that is the footage from the FBI Man's hidden camera. The audience is brought into the center of the cat-and-mouse game between Trevor and the spy and gradually understands both characters on a deeper level.
The direction by Kip Fagan works intermittently. His vision for the play sets the action in a barren uniform set with the audience peering voyueristically through enlarged windows. The overall tone is tongue-in-cheek, which occasionally seems at odds with the text. The moments when characters speak sincerely are the most compelling in the show, yet most scenes focus on the comedy rather than the substance. Occasional spurts of heightened realism prove jarring and go unexplained, such as an early scene when a conversation about fame erupts into a violent thrash-dance with projections of a bloodbath filling the stage.
Performances from the cast are capable, but are somewhat limited by the comedic tone of the direction. Rebecca Henderson as Trevor is fully believable and enjoyable to watch, however I found myself wishing she had more of a journey to portray. As it stands, her character has plenty of neuroses that set her at odds with the world, yet none of them leads her to question her beliefs.
Production design is cohesive, featuring an outstanding set design from Peter Ksander. He constructs a sterile world for the play that remains intact until the final reveal of Trevor's finished exhibit, which proves grotesque, mesmerizing, and gorgeous.
This transformation mirrors the play at large, which considers that by unearthing the ugly underbelly of society, one might be able to revive a population's humanity. The production itself might have fulfilled this intention were it not for the unnecessary add-ons to the text, such as the comical tone and multimedia. Regardless, Roadkill Confidential is a play that leaves its mark on the audience, despite this particular production's scattered focus.