Two things to know about Danny O’Connor’s new play: it’s crazy, and crazy-good.
Staged in a home on Mockingbird Lane, this wacky and bloody romp takes place entirely in a living room, where 15 spectators watch as a talented cast falls deeper and deeper into a hilarious nightmare.
The “home” staging could feel gimmicky, as you crowd your car into the small driveway and amble into the backyard for a pre-show beer (this is actor Jordan Tomenga’s actual residence). But once inside the living room, the immediacy erases any notions of pretention. It’s thrilling to have the actors rush right by you as they enter and exit during the frantic 80 minutes, and the closeness draws you into the ridiculous plight of Aaron (O’Connor), who is nursing a slashed arm and hiding a terrible secret in his bedroom when Simon (Jeff Swearingen) arrives.
This close-range seating also means that it’s impossible to hide any acting glitches, but that’s not a concern for the uniformly excellent cast. As Simon tends to Aaron’s bleeding arm, he finally cajoles the truth out of the shocked big guy: there’s a dead body in the bedroom, and Aaron is the cause. As Simon and Aaron debate how they should handle this bloody elephant in the room, spaced-out roommate Jack (Tomenga) drifts in and out, too high on mushrooms to really notice what’s happening.
When Kassia (Robin Clayton), the European model girlfriend of third roommate Raymond (Brian Grunkowski, pulling double duty as director) arrives, it becomes outrageously clear that this is not Kassia’s first encounter with a dead body. O’Connor’s dialogue is clever and compact on its own, but with Grunkowski’s direction and the actors’ choices, nearly every line is laugh-out-loud funny.
Once Raymond, a nurse, returns home from work, everyone is roped into a plan. More details about who the deceased is and how he might be connected to everyone also emerge, and the pieces start to fall into place.
But just when it seems the play is heading for its conclusion, there’s another knock at the door and Cindy (Mercedes Arndt), a love-struck student, arrives with suitcase in tow. Arndt, a newcomer, is pitch-perfect as the highschooler who’s obsessed with Aaron (her health teacher). She’s the crazy catalyst in an already nutso situation, but her addition feels absolutely perfect rather than over the top.
That’s the thing about The Down Low: the more absurd, the better. But in the midst of all this ludicrous action, each of the actors still manages to make their characters feel human rather than cartoonish. It’s this hint of reality that might make you consider what you would do in this situation.
But do yourself a favor and go see this production instead of finding out for yourself.