Roadkill Confidential at 3LD
If this article were one of the hammy, “noir-ish” asides from Sheila Callaghan’s “Roadkill Confidential” at 3LD it would cheat diagonally and speak from the side of its mouth, à la the F.B.I. agent who leads the audience through this interesting, if hard to grasp, play. As the agent, Danny Mastrogiorgio delivers smart, incisive descriptions of the play’s characters—“lives alone, but pees with the door shut, does not masturbate, is not a good listener, has a silk scarf collection”—with cockeyed flourish that leave the audience snickering. The 90-minute play is smattered with these crystalline moments of great writing, but as a whole it is difficult to pin down.
As a musing on brutality, “Roadkill Confidential” captures the sudden, unexpected danger of dire situations—ask anyone hanging around Park Slope on September 16th, they’ll tell you. Artist Trevor Pratt, played with raw intensity by Rebecca Henderson, divides her time between watching war reports overseas on TV, hitting small animals with her car for her secret art project, and dealing with the hapless cast of characters in her orbit. Her husband, William, (Greg McFadden) is a befuddled art history professor whose teenage son Randy storms about (Alex Anfanger) between visits from Melanie (Polly Lee), an incessantly chirpy neighbor. Brutality in art is seen and pointed to on many levels as Trevor’s art project toys with violence towards animals as well as their potential to infect humans with a rare and deadly bacteria. One of the driving questions of the play is asked by William during a lecture as he comments on real-life Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas, who chained a starving street dog to a gallery wall and let it die. “If we knew the dog survived,” William asks in a lecture, “would it change the way we feel about the work?” Brutality in the close, quiet quarters of the family is often the most terrifying, but “Roadkill” switches the seriousness with noir-ish hamming that paints domestic tableaux with broad strokes and a sitcom-y feel. Luckily, because the acting on all parts is solid, there are moments of real connection between characters that draw the audience in.
The stage is bracketed with nine small television monitors reminiscent of the heavy industrial type found on a film set, and triumphs the way that small spaces do when they’re well used—it is seamlessly flexible. The monitors serve as both a portal between the main character of the story, artist Trevor Pratt, and the F.B.I. agent investigating her for an art project featuring small, dead animals (ergo “roadkill”) possibly infected with a rare bacterial disease deeming it “a matter of national security”. As it should be in an a space billed for both art and technology, the technical resources are well-used and meticulously well presented. The large projection screen as well as the small monitors are used at the right times and serve to round out the story. Polly Lee, who appears onstage as the chirpy neighbor, Melanie, plays a broadcast news reporter on the projection screen delivering cryptic, fear-inducing news, the video catches the news parody spirit of the age of Colbert and spoofs delightfully.
It’s difficult, when watching the play, to figure out how this constellation of people ended up together. Details and character objectives don’t quite ring true; Randy the stepson is obsessed with forks, celebrity and Doritos, but it is unclear exactly how these very specific obsessions line up. That is not to say that the play doesn’t relish in moments of goofy truth that are utterly delicious. Early on, Edward Norton look-alike Greg McFadden performs a version of UB40’s “Red Red Wine” that is straight out of the bizarre petri dish of earnestness known as the family.
With strong individual acting, creative sets and writing sprinkled with smart moments, it is disappointing that this meditation on brutality disappears from the imagination as quickly as it appeared. Perhaps the real question that remains is: if we knew how hard it is to survive in downtown theater, would it change the way we felt about the art?