Transferring to Trafalgar Studios following a successful run at the White Bear Theatre, Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd. is a dark comedy that puts humanity under the spotlight.
Mitch is down on his luck: he’s lost his job, his relationship, his home, and his car. Desperate for somewhere to stay, he finds JD’s ad and heads over to meet him. The place turns out to be a room in a motel, inhabited by some of the strangest and most extreme characters you’re ever likely to meet. Initially Mitch balks at the idea of sharing a small room with a stranger, but it’s late in the day and, in desperation, he agrees to a trial while he gets his head together. He’s also struck by JD’s non-judgmental kindness towards everyone he meets, including meth-addicted artist Marlene, her errant poet boyfriend Tommy, and the motel’s owner Flip. Mitch finds something of a kindred spirit in Marlene, but just when things seem to be looking up, Tommy takes them hostage. Will things ever be simple again?
It is an incredibly funny play, the first in a trilogy written by West Virginia native Keith Stevenson (who also stars as JD). As well as being laugh-out-loud ridiculous, it also makes some salient points; true kindness and generosity often comes when you least expect it, and from the most unlikely sources. In an age that seems constantly on edge, as we await the next terror attack or the latest executive order from President Trump (it still seems surreal to write that), it’s a tonic to see something that reminds you that humanity can surprise you. Even if it comes in the form of a scruffy, bearded man who only drinks ‘Lee Marvins’ (Mountain Dew mixed with vodka). Stevenson’s writing is smart, casually strewing seeds that slowly grow as the play goes on, coming to fruition with some brilliant punchlines.
In a first for Trafalgar Studios 2, the stage is set up end-on rather than the usual thrust layout. This works perfectly for Simon Scullion’s cramped motel room set, allowing everything to be closed in much more tightly – this shows exactly why Mitch has reservations about choosing to live there. You really do feel like a fly on the wall!
You couldn’t ask for a better cast for this production. Robert Moloney captures Mitch’s growing exasperation and befuddlement at the little world he finds himself trapped in, and Michael Wade brings a deadpan humour to Flip. Alex Ferns (with a spot-on New Jersey accent) as Tommy and Melanie Gray as a wild-eyed Marlene are a fiery pair, each with their own little tics and a fantastic chemistry.
Keith Stevenson really stands out as JD, at the centre of it all. You might think that a character who’s unrelentingly positive and willing to always give everyone the benefit of the doubt could start to grate after a while, but Stevenson plays it in such a way that by the end you want JD to be your friend too. It helps that he is naturally funny, with a highlight being his unique way of trying to convince Tommy to give himself up – you have to see it to believe it…
My verdict? A dark yet feel-good comedy that you can’t help but guffaw at, brilliantly designed & performed – anyone for a Lee Marvin?
Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road runs at Trafalgar Studios until 3 June 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.