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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 23, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 25
ACTLab and Theatre22 present Therese Rebeck's profound Downstairs
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ACTLab and Theatre22 present Therese Rebeck's profound Downstairs

by Paul Torres - SGN A&E Writer

DOWNSTAIRS
ACTLAB AND THEATRE22
Through July 9


Intense. Downstairs is intense. From the first few moments that Teddy, wonderfully played by Brandon Ryan, frenetically walks into his scene with odd body quirks and ticks the audience feels his mental and emotional instability. He ambles around a junk-strewn basement, pours his cereal, smells some old coffee from a pot, and makes odd noises. Although it's a bit funny, there's a sense that something is wrong here, very wrong. His weary sister comes down and those weird senses are confirmed with ensuing conversations. Family discord, versions of reality, and sheer sanity are all examined here. His sister Irene, a magnificent Christine Marie Brown, is on a mission to kick him out of the basement because her husband doesn't want him there.

She's his sister and that bond is proven with feeding him a delicious dinner and chocolate cake reminiscent of their childhood. She remembers their life fondly with a strong mother deserving empathy and he remembers it coldly with a crazy mother who doesn't deserve such kind words. Their mother has died and left them a fortune, but Irene was in charge and purchased a house with it. Teddy feels this is his house and therefore his basement. His estrangement from her is due to his complicated state of mind and a situation at work where he believes someone is poisoning him.

Irene's life is complicated as well with an overbearing husband. The clothes that she used to love now 'hate her' and she finds challenges in simple tasks like taking a package to the post office. Her horrible husband, Gerry, is an over-weight monster. Teddy tells Irene that he is a demon and she should get away as soon as and as far a she can go. Gerry is scarily played by a John Q. Smith (who starred in Theatre22's Annapurna). Smith is excellent in this role. From the first moments he enters the basement he is absolutely terrifying. Although Teddy is mentally unstable, he has nothing to lose and isn't really threatened by his brother-in-law's macho posturing. This challenge causes additional strife between Gerry and Irene. And this story gets more intense.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck examines the depths of human despair. Downstairs deftly illustrates how depression can wrack someone, but also be an opportunity as a catalyst to observe the dysfunctional state of one's life and make the necessary changes to save their lives. Teddy's illness seemingly gives him enlightenment and insight. Julie Beckman's tight direction is a key element in this production. Some of the script slightly strays off into unnecessary melodrama (slamming of tools on table surfaces/Irene's missing pets), but it's all reined in with the on-cue performances of the superb acting.

So, how and where do we find mental salvation? How do we release these demons? Downstairs observes how Teddy comes to terms with his despair in an unfinished basement filled with broken childhood toys, an old sofa, and a 'broken' computer in a basement as stifling as the collective illnesses of its characters who all have a fear of living life to some degree. Downstairs is an unflinching portrayal of so-called reality on the edge of utter decimating violence or a soul-saving breakthrough. It's a gripping look at altruistic love with unwavering humanity.

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ACTLab and Theatre22 present Therese Rebeck's profound Downstairs
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