Directed by Jimmy McDermott
At Steep Theatre Chicago
Simplicity, fear, and ignorance inhibit child abuse drama
“If there was no river or water or whatnot. That piper would just have to keep walking and keep playing his pipe and the rats would keep following him. . . He’d be bound to those rats forever. Playing his pipe and leading those rats… in perpetuity”— Deputy
Steep Theatre is one ‘hot’ theatre troupe these days since Harper Regan became a runaway smash hit. They follow with the U.S premier of British playwright Anthony Weigh’s 2,000 Feet Away to mixed results. Weigh’s depiction of the folks in Iowa as narrow-minded and simplistic giving the impression that Iowans are the same mentality as Mississippians. Both ignorant, Bible-totting, prejudice folks. Inf act, Iowa is liberal, progressive state.
When Iowa passes a law forbidding a registered sex offender from living within 2, 000 feet of places where children congregate including schools, parks, shopping malls, daycare centers, public swimming pools, bus stops and libraries, the Deputy must enforce the law by evicting and transporting the sex offender away from those places. The small town of Eldon, Iowa (population 1, 000) complicates the task since most every category and living place are within the 2, 000 foot limit. This premise has potential but playwright Anthony Weigh tries to compact too many themes and parts of the child abuse problem into an 85 minute one act.
The play opens at the Chicago Art Institute at the exhibit of Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic with a 20semething adult male and a male tween both quite uncomfortable interacting at the exhibit. The man (Benjamin Sprunger) and the boy (Alex Turner) exude a sexual tension that finds the boy in control. Curious. That and a scene between the Deputy and the little precocious girl (Grace Goble) hint that some victims did entice the offenders. Unfortunately, playwright Weigh didn’t develop that idea enough but he clearly has some sympathy for some offenders.
2,000 Feet Away focuses the plight of the Deputy (Brendon Melanson in a fine performance) as he struggles with what to do with a particular registered sex offender, A.G. (Benjamin Sprunger), the son of Nan (Melissa Riemer) and Bryon (Jim Wasik). Since the Deputy know the American Gothic look-alike couple, he has mixed feeling about what to do with their son, A. J. – the gentle soul unaware of his crime.
Brendon Melanson presents the Deputy as simple fellow just doing his job yet he has empathy for both sides of the problem of what to do with sex offenders. This play is really the Deputy’s and Melanson is terrific as the donut-eating, paunchy police officer with a heart.
The play uses short film-like scenes that slowed down the show by the frequent blackouts to move furniture. The story is fragmented by Weigh’s determination to cover several themes without fully developing any. There is a long scene at the local diner that has the waiter (Jonathan Edwards) obnoxiously harassing the Deputy with his born-again Evangelical religious fervor. The play moves to the rural hotel that becomes the home for A. J.and other sex offenders. We meet the 18 Year Old (Connor del Rio) sex offender whose crime was having sex with his 15 year old girlfriend and creepy middle age Resident (Will Kinnear) as the stereotypical pedophile.
Playwright Weigh outlines the problem of what to do with sex offenders and who sex offender are. He demonstrates how local fear, ignorance and prejudice complicate the problem. If he had narrowed his focus a tad, 2,000 Feet Away would contain more power. It plays out as incomplete and unfulfilling. Brendon Melanson’s performance was outstanding.
At Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn, Chicago, IL, 312-458-0722, www.steeptheatre.com, tickets $20 – $22, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, running time is 85 minutes without intermission.