The Distance from Here

Rated 3.0 Busy Anthony D’Juan! On the same weekend the Martin Luther King Jr. Theatre Project premieres his newest script, … And the Dream Goes On! A Celebration in Song, Word and Dance, The Actor’s Theatre opens a D’Juan-directed production of Neil LaBute’s The Distance from Here.The two shows couldn’t be more different. The Martin Luther King Jr. show is an optimistic hymn to understanding, forgiveness and the African American legacy, and The Distance is a gloomy voyage with a cluster of ignoble characters on the seamy fringes of life. The story is rife with deceit and betrayal, culminating in a vicious outburst of deadly, misplaced, violent rage. The script uses expletives the way a mirror ball scatters reflections in a ballroom. (But despite a few casually spoken racial slurs, the show has little to do with race.)

The Distance involves a single mother; her beer-drinking, grease-monkey boyfriend; her moody teenage son; and her son’s circle of high-school friends. This sort of thing is playwright-filmmaker LaBute’s forte, and he makes it compelling. He creates everyday situations featuring ordinary characters, who are nonetheless capable of extraordinary cruelty or equally damning inaction or neglect.

D’Juan gradually develops tension out of what initially seem like random scenes. He gets very strong performances from Galen Howard, Beth Edwards (who was nearly flawless in The Actor’s Theatre’s previous production of LaBute’s Bash) and Michael Claudio (who continues to impress and show versatility).

Some supporting performances fall into the “good student effort” category. That’s an honorable and affectionate description, since several actors are clearly on the young side.