Towards the end of Sheila Callaghan’s intriguing new play, controversial artist Trevor Pratt (Rebecca Henderson) opens her mouth to speak—but all that comes out are the sounds of TV news reports from war zones. It’s an emblematic moment in this tense comedy-drama about the blurred line between media and message, art and life.
Our narrator is an FBI agent (a droll Danny Mastrogiorgio) as flamboyant in his metaphors as he is cocksure of his investigative abilities. He’s been sent to find out whether Trevor’s activities at her rural studio go beyond the merely disgusting (collecting roadkill and incorporating it into art installations) to include something more sinister. During scenes of Trevor’s domestic life, we are led to wonder: will something awful happen to her incredibly annoying and nosy neighbor Melanie (the even funnier Polly Lee)?
Though not actually omniscient, the agent approximates all-knowingness by planting hidden cameras in the house Trevor shares with pedantic art professor William (Greg McFadden) and William’s comically rebellious teenage son Randy (Alex Anfanger), who has an obsession with forks. Trevor quickly discovers the bug, but instead of disabling it she begins to confide through it to the unknown agent. Because you see, Trevor is the stereotypical tortured and misunderstood artist, unable to satisfyingly connect with her lover or anyone else. In real life such people tend to be tiresome, but Trevor—though like everyone else here a very consciously written character—is written and played so well that she’s unceasingly interesting to watch, whether squirming silently in front of the war-blasting TV, politely seething during one of Melanie’s uninvited visits, or monologuing to the camera so that her face appears in creepy, giant video closeup. Projection is used smartly and integrally throughout the production.
Callaghan pokes as much fun at William’s overly intellectualized analyses of art as she does of Randy’s loud, empty rebellions and lonely Melanie’s vapid desperation, but Trevor herself gets off easy, partly because Henderson, in a bravura performance, makes her real and sympathetic despite her twisted actions. William explains her appeal. He’d been recently, violently widowed, and when Trevor “reaches into the wreckage to touch him…she’s the blade, you see / the blade feels nothing / it only cuts…I realized I could never butter toast again / I could only be cut.” Yet tragically, Trevor doesn’t want to be that cold blade. She lashes out precisely because she’s raging against the numbness that creeps over her as she watches more and more war footage. “And then I’m just like everyone else out there / The non-feelers / The ones who pass a starving dog / And keep on walking.” How could this possibly end well?
Kudos must also go to director Kip Fagan, whose overall vision keeps this talky piece moving smoothly, and to the technical and artistic mastery of Bart Fasbender (sound), Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew (lighting), and Shaun Irons and Lauren Petty (video). They make excellent use of the crisp white space of the 3LD Art & Technology Center, way downtown near Ground Zero. Seeing Roadkill Confidential, especially here, was an apt way to spend the evening of September 11.
For schedule and tickets visit the Clubbed Thumb website.
Photo: Rebecca Henderson as Trevor and Danny Mastrogiorgio as FBI Man. Photo by Carl Skutsch.