BWW Reviews: THE TRIP BACK DOWN Misses Making it to the Checkered Flag
While attempting to confront his career's inevitable downslide, unremarkable race car driver Bobby Horvath (handsome Nick Stabile) visits his family and friends back in Mansfield, Ohio, while trying to determine which way to go with his life. Over the course of numerous flashbacks, past and present collide as Bobby takes a serious look at where he has been and where he wants to be in the future. But if winning is all there is, it is going to be a long road for Bobby to make it to the finish line.
Terri Hanauer directs the rare revival of the Broadway drama THE TRIP BACK DOWN that kick-started playwright/screenwriter John Bishop's career. Unfortunately, this production at the Whitefire Theatre misses the mark with slow pacing, direction that causes constant upstaging, and actors who recite lines as if reading them off a page rather than from the soul of the character being portrayed.
Nick Stabile heads the cast as once-great NASCAR racer Bobby Horvath, but his wooden performance lacks the depth needed for us to truly see into his tortured soul. Stabile struts well enough and looks good enough, but unless he can let go of himself and really become this washed up man from moment to moment, the play comes to a stretching halt at the first curve in the track.
Speaking of the track, I do have to commend the set designed by Tom Buderwitz and projection design by Corwin Evans, especially when racing scenes are projected on the set during scene changes. You really do feel as if you are sitting in the stands watching the cars race by. The bandshell set's moveable walls are used very effectively for many interesting entrances and exits, allowing us to see many different rooms made up of the exact same bar, stools, tables and chairs in different arrangements. And I especially enjoyed the sound design by Dino Herrmann, which featured popular songs from 70's including David Bowie's "Fame," Cat Stevens' "Cat in the Cradle" and Average White Band's "Pick Up The Pieces."
THE TRIP BACK DOWN teems with 26 characters and takes place over a span of two decades, populated with family members, colorful race car drivers, groupies, union leaders and factory workers. Show casting by Michael Donovan is usually spot on, but somehow this show misses the mark. For even though the actors look like they could realistically be the characters, few have the acting chops to carry off the roles in anything other than a superficial manner. This is especially true for Eve Danzeisen who attempts to portray Bobby's estranged wife Joann. You have to wonder if she really knew what she was saying or why she was saying it since her acting was so flat and unemotional.
Pivotal to the plot is Bobby's brother and Barbara's husband Frank, portrayed by Kevin Brief as a two-dimensional, beer-guzzling, factory worker whose main interests are bowling and hanging out at the local "girlie" club. Even if the character is written that way, there needs to be something about him which lets the audience like him. But again, the superficial portrayal left much unknown about this character, causing you to not really care for him at all.
Faring better in bringing their characters to life are Karl Ebergen as Chuck, the youngest working class admirer of Bobby, Robb Derringer as fellow race car driver Super Joe Weller, Larrs Jackson as Bobby's father Will Horvath, and Meredith Thomas as Bobby's sister-in-law Barbara. The scene is which she attempts to seduce Bobby was one of the most interesting and well done in the production.
Smaller roles are played by Chelese Belmont, Lovlee Carroll, Gregory G. Giles, Mike Mahaffey, Chad Anthony Miller, Lily Nicksay, Scott Roe and Terasa Sciortino.
"Bobby needed courage to leave Mansfield to pursue a racing career, and now he needs to find the courage to come back - to face the friends and family he abandoned, to face living, to face himself," explains director Terri Hanauer. "It's as if he's racing for his life. His memories rush at him like cars racing by. Everything that happens is either 'fuel' or a 'pit stop.' He needs to get his life in focus, to get to the finish line." I wish her vision of the play been brought to fruition, but this production misses making it to the checkered flag, let alone to the finish line.
THE TRIP BACK DOWN continues through March 29 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm. General admission is $25; full-time students with ID are $15.
The Whitefire Theatre is located at 13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, CA 91423. For reservations and information, call (323) 960-7712 or go to www.plays411.com/trip