BWW Review: Paul Hood Presents I, JOURNEYMAN Premiere in Mechanicsburg
Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg has been staging a comeback that's anchored in many ways by its Original Play Workshop. The honoring of area playwrights by putting their works on stage is an important act of recognition - not that Paul Hood hasn't been recognized before. But I, JOURNEYMAN, the staged reading put on by LTM this past weekend, is a bit of a departure for Hood from the more realistic into psychological (and quite possibly supernatural) terror. For what he admits is a work in progress, it's a noble start.
Though it's set in a house in midtown Harrisburg, the play could be set in any city where people are known vaguely and not often seen. Keith and Celia Dugan (Adam Murray and Catherine Tyson-Osif) are one such couple. She works outside of midtown; he's seen occasionally at the coffee shop or the gym. They don't know people well, forming slight acquaintances over coffee conversations as so many people do now. While at home in a thunderstorm much like those of late, they worry about the power outage, about a tree hanging right over their car, about a wasp in the house, about the poor cell phone reception the weather's brought. And then there's the fool in the street outside dancing in the rain - someone Keith has met over coffee.
It's his recent coffee acquaintance, who winds up coming to their door ostensibly for shelter, and more likely, in reality, to harass them. Matt Stewart plays the highly symbolically charge Chase Journey with a wild, electric madness and a twist of wordplay that's neatly written by Hood. Like the Norse god Loki, it's hard to tell if he's a trickster or a fiend. It's also hard to tell if he's a real person, a folie a deux, or an apparition like unto the Ghost of Christmas Future. He has bad tidings for the Dugans, most of which involve forcing the Dugans to face the reality of their lives.
In a highly metaphorical, if not metaphysical, confrontation, Journey forces the Dugans to examine individual and shared guilt, questions of sanity, the nature of their reality, and the lies they tell each other in order to survive. Part jester, part thug, Journey is the unwelcome mirror of their existence, who seems to know their secrets better than they do.
The story is framed by Kohler Scott and Ned Bleeks (Paul Henry and Keith Bowerman, also narrating stage direction), two documentary filmmakers who are both fascinated by and fearful of what may have happened in the Dugans' home. In the best modern horror film tradition, they both have one rule of their own for dealing with the repercussions of the confrontation - don't go in the basement. Whether they can tell the Dugans' story without that, however, is a matter of its own. It's anyone's guess if the men are filming a news segment or "America's Most Haunted," a question the audience may have to decide for itself.
A work in progress, I, JORNEYMAN has its rough edges. There are one or two questionable plot moments and the occasionally overplayed metaphor. Hood held talkbacks at each performance, however, to learn how his audience perceived these moments, and is using the information received for further tuning of the script. That will be something to look forward to. The skeleton is there and it's solid; all it needs is the proper connection of each and every muscle for the play to live and live well.
It's a delight to see Hood take on a modern telling of a classic trope; there are touches of AN INSPECTOR CALLS, THE WOMAN IN BLACK, and GASLIGHT, among other favorite psychological thrillers. It's a delight to see anyone picking up the trope these days, but Hood has some deft touches that make this an especially amusing diversion; its final form should be well worth it. Keep your eyes peeled for future developments with this play. Next up at LMT, a classic comedy, Neil Simon's THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE.