The World Premiere of Neil LaBute’s play “The Distance From Here” is a brutal, meandering, immoral, violent and shocking story, that is not for the faint hearted. This merciless dissection of white trash that is meant to portray life in the wastelands of American suburbia lacks any sense of reality because it is not placed in any social context.
Where in America do these kids live? What are their social backgrounds? If we knew more about why their lives seem to drift from one meaningless moment to the next we might begin to understand and possibly identify with them. Instead, one feels like a perverted voyeur receiving some illicit pleasure by watching deprived life forms sink further and further into an amoral quagmire that can only lead to death and destruction.
The story concerns Darrell a damaged youth who comes from a broken home. He lives with his mother Cammie and her ex-army boyfriend Rich. His mother is totally disinterested in Darrell, when he tries to reminisce with her about his childhood she tells him she cannot even remember rearing him. He constantly seeks approval from the only two people in his life who seem to care about him, his girlfriend Jenn and his mate Tim. However, Darrell bullies Tim mercilessly and becomes jealous if anyone even looks twice at Jenn.
The first scene opens with Darrell and Tim at the city zoo, mimicking the antics of the chimpanzees and shouting obscenities at them. For them the chimps are only filthy disgusting beasts whose lives are totally worthless. A fitting analogy for what is to follow.
When Darrell begins to suspect that Tim and Jenn are having a secret relationship the stability within his life begins to crumble. When he also learns that two years ago, whilst he was away from town visiting his father, Jenn had sex with a black guy which was video taped and was now doing the rounds as an amateur porn movie, he finally flips. A psychotic violent spree follows as Darrell forces Jenn and Tim to tell him the truth.
Jenn and Tim are the only characters that express any kind of human decency. After the shocking violent scene at the zoo, it is they who redeem the situation by attempting to do the ‘right thing’. However, so damaged are all the characters in this play that their attempt to do the ‘right thing’ appears hopelessly inadequate.
The acting from the two leading male performers cannot be faulted. Mark Webber plays the part of Darrell, the brash assured cocky young teenager trying to cover for his frightened and badly damaged ego with alarming conviction. Jason Ritter is superb as Tim. He develops his character with great skill as Tim matures from being Darrell’s insubstantial friend to his peer who is able to confront Darrell’s psychotic behaviour.
Giles Cadle’s stage design of a barren concrete jungle, made up of dark foreboding buildings provides the right setting for this play. The revolving set that changes from zoo, to living room, to classroom etc, and yet remains homogeneously desolate, matches the bleak sterile lives of the characters that inhabit it.
This play appears to have been written with the intention to shock and scandalise. Unfortunately this is all it does, and whilst shock and scandal may momentarily thrill, they are not invigorating enough to make good drama.
What other critics had to say.....
DARREN DALGLISH says, "What the message of the play was I don’t know, but I found it more out to shock rather than to put a point across resulting in a dismal affair. " MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "A dismayingly cold piece: a vision of the spiritual emptiness of American suburbia recorded with the scientific detachment of a zoologist." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "NEIL LaBUTE’S uneven new play begins with two adolescent boys chatting desultorily next to a cage at some rundown zoo, while the monkeys inside hoot and gibber. By the end, the question we’re asking ...Which species is the more brutish, the simian or the human?" PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, " This play treads a fine line between shocking you out of your received liberal complacencies and just making you feel morally superior to these adroitly pinned-down anthropological specimens." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "There's insufficient pace and definition ......An atmosphere is created but no dramatic points are made." SARAH HEMMING for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Excellent production."
External links to full reviews from newspapers