BWW Review: Intensity and Anger Abounds in Theatre22's DOWNSTAIRS
Some plays are light bits of fluff, perfect for an evening's entertainment filled with laughs and warm fuzzy feelings. Others, however, take you to a dark and intense place filled with foreboding and anger and, if you're lucky, some gripping performances. Theatre22 and ACTLab's west coast premiere of Theresa Rebeck's "Downstairs", currently playing ACT, is definitely the latter and definitely has those gripping performances. In fact, I'll even go as far as to say it has some of the best performances I've seen all year.
Rebeck's play is a quick-witted look into some very complex characters. Teddy (Brandon Ryan) is an unstable young man certain that his next big break will come at any minute. But until it does he's living in the basement of his sister Irene's (Christine Marie Brown) house. Irene's controlling husband Gerry (John Q. Smith) is less than thrilled about this situation and keeps angling for Teddy to move on. As the siblings become closer and begin to rekindle their childhood devotion to each other, the tensions rise and Gerry's tactics become more and more intense showing off his truly malevolent side.
Rebeck's play is certainly not a happy little romp. In fact, it's filled with potential triggers surrounding mental illness and abusive relationships. If it sounds like I'm dissuading you from seeing the show, you couldn't be farther from the truth. Sure, it's a dark and gritty piece but director Julie Beckman has also crafted a raw and honest look into these issues, so much so that I found myself forgetting I was watching a play and feeling the need to leap up and protect some of the characters. I didn't, of course, thanks to my reminding myself it was only a play and these were actors but I seriously wanted to deck one of the characters.
This anger of mine and intense need to save stems from some absolutely superb performances. Ryan is a master of the fast paced and manic line delivery but he always keeps his performances so internalized and that truly shines through here. He's created a character so damaged and searching to the point of delusion but still manages to make him empathetic and likable. Brown matches that delivery perfectly and brings in her own traits of a broken and controlled woman making it clear how someone could be so trapped in a bad situation. And Smith (the object of the aforementioned potential decking) has created one of the most intensely manipulative and honestly evil characters I've seen on stage. His Gerry is so much the picture of a vile human being that his performance capped off my feelings that this was real life and it was a quite dangerous place.
So no, this is not the happiest little bit of entertainment for the summer but it does have some of the best performances I've seen and I urge you to catch them. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Theatre22 and ACTLab's production of "Downstairs" a dangerously triggered YAY+. If you want to see some outstanding performances in an exciting new work, then this is the one for you. If you want some light fluff, look elsewhere.
"Downstairs" from Theatre22 and ACTLab performs at ACT through July 9th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org or www.theatre22.org.