Even by casual Fringe Festival standards, director Kevin Crowley’s staging of playwright Roger Collins’ The Long Way Home is a long way from ready to take stage. Mostly it’s a mess, and mostly the faults proceed from neither the words nor the players.
Collins’ script takes a hard though hardly realistic look at Iraq war vets who come home to homelessness, social invisibility and civic neglect. At times it's realistically grounded, but more often it's fanciful and elliptical, sometimes even angularly poetic. Under Crowley’s stumbling care, however, too little of that remains in focus or receives the kind of attention to detail it requires for effective presentation and deserves for its occasional insight.
Nor do the production’s problems rest with the three players: Darryl Hilton, Reggie Willis and Khrys Styles. All have extensive local credits, and in this production each has a moment or two when performance trumps the show’s general malaise and some actual drama erupts. At the opening night, unhappily, all three players (especially Willis) were still struggling to remember their lines, thus creating energy lapses in which the show’s pace, fitful at best, disappeared altogether. Lengthy and unnecessary blackouts for furniture rearrangement and bungled music cues didn’t help.
Hilton plays Regent, the vet who returns to find his family gone, his employment demeaning and his house and car repossessed. On a lonely afternoon he takes a stroll along a familiar avenue, calling on acquaintances and encountering strangers. Willis and Styles play all the people Regent meets and some he only remembers.
The show’s weakest moment comes when Regent confronts a shoplifter (Willis) pocketing a can of peas in a local market. Regent had himself been about to steal the same can of peas. He pulls a gun on the thief, then engages him in philosophical discourse. The point is valid — lonesome Regent is able to find human interaction only with a gun, in itself a kind of robbery — but Crowley didn’t help the actors get it out to the audience with any power.
The show’s strongest moment is an encounter between Regent and a convinced church lady (Styles) doing missionary outreach on the front steps of her church. He resists what he sees as an attack on his self-reliance. She insists, demonstrating in her subtext how missionaries can have personal agendas.
Collins’ work presents at least two serious difficulties for director and cast. In making his characters vivid he's given them diversifying characteristics, such as the barber who relaxes playing J.S. Bach’s "Goldberg Variations." These diversities will seem silly unless the staging and the performance tackle them with self-assured authority. That doesn’t happen here.
Secondly, Collins frequently engages characters who are total strangers in unlikely moments of instant intimacy. That can only become believable if the actors and director believe. These guys don’t seem to.
(Get upcoming performance dates and venue details here.)