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BWW Review: LONG WAY DOWN at the Kennedy Center

BWW Review: LONG WAY DOWN at the Kennedy Center
Justin Weaks in the Kennedy Center production of Long Way Down.
Photo by Yassine El Mansouri.

The world premiere of Long Way Down, directed by Timothy Douglas and based on the book by Jason Reynolds, focuses on 15-year-old Will (Justin Weaks), who struggles with what to do about the shooting death of his brother Shawn. Overtaken with grief and anger, Will takes Shawn's gun and goes to follow the last of "The Rules": "Get revenge." In the apartment elevator, he is visited by six souls whose lives have been taken by gun violence. As the elevator descends, the weight of Will's decision hangs in the air as thick as the haze of the cigarette smoke which surrounds him. Long Way Down delves deeply into the circumstances surrounding urban gun violence, and the impacts which it has on those left in its bloody wake.

Justin Weaks takes Reynolds' characters and makes them come alive on stage. In addition to Will, Weaks also plays those six souls who come onto the elevator. Although Will's interactions with his elevator companions are brief compared to his inner monologue, their stories are told in ways which allow the audience to understand who they are as individuals. From Dani, who is Will's childhood friend, to Buck, who is Shawn's best friend, the physicality, voices, and mannerisms of each character are so distinct and precise that one is able to easily pick out whom he is portraying during conversations. Throughout the production, Weaks speaks in free form poetry, which compliments how the book is written. He handles the ebb and flow of the poetry so well that one forgets that he isn't speaking conversationally anymore.

The play's technical aspects are as strong as Weaks' acting. The set, designed by Tony Cisek, consists of diagonal, mobile walls which capture the claustrophobia of the elevator. The projections, designed by Michael Redman, enhance the scene rather than distract. The elevator buttons projected onto one wall light up as the elevator moves from floor to floor. This continues to add to the suspense of what is going to happen when Will reaches the lobby of the apartment building. The sound, designed by Nick Hernandez, compliments the ambiance what is happening on stage, as well as, the free form poetry spoken by Weaks.

Long Way Down is suitable for both adults and children. Younger children might have a hard time with certain concepts presented in this production (specifically gun violence and drugs), but that doesn't mean that parents shouldn't bring their younger children. If they do, parents should be prepared to have a conversation with them about what they saw and how it made them feel.

Overall, Long Way Down is a thought-provoking play which humanizes those who have been impacted by not just gun violence, but by poverty and other socioeconomic factors which affect their lives on a daily basis.

Running time: 65 minutes with no intermission

Long Way Down plays at the Kennedy Center - 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC - through November 4, 2018. For tickets call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or purchase them online.

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