Steep Theatre presents
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
‘What if there was no river to go to?’ The question is asked repeatedly without resolution to the Pied Piper’s potential dilemma in rat extermination. Steep Theatre presents the U.S. premiere of 2,000 FEET AWAY, a play about one State’s deportation of sex offenders. In 2005, Iowa passed legislation forcing known pedophiles to live outside a 2,000 feet radius from child-frequented establishments. (2,000 feet is equivalent to 3 ½ city blocks in Chicago.) Who would oppose a mandate to keep children safe from predators? 2,000 FEET AWAY broadens this narrow view point by showcasing the softer side of pedophilia. Playwright Anthony Weigh uses Eldon, Iowa as the play’s location. A community of less than 1,000 people, Eldon is famous for Grant Wood’s iconic painting ‘American Gothic.’ Town folk keep adding new locations to the banned list for sex offenders. The deputy evicts and transplants the unwanted to a motel outside the town. The convicted and condemned deviants have stories of consensual relationships. 2,000 FEET AWAY shortens the distance to 200 feet by staging a powerful expose to ask, ‘what is offensive sex?’ and ‘who is offended?’
From the start, interactions are a balance of creepy and sweet. A 12-year old boy (Alex Turner) and his piano teacher (Benjamin Sprunger) are looking at ‘American Gothic’ at the Art Institute. Despite the age difference, Turner seems in control of the situation. Turner displays the awkward aggression of a male tween ‘like liking’ somebody. Throughout the show, Sprunger portrays a simplistic innocent unaware of wrong doings. He’s both the contradiction and stereotyped pedophile. He’s handsome and he carries jelly beans. At a pivotal moment, his pleading for help is heart wrenching desperation. Brendan Melanson (Deputy) is ‘just doing his job’ marvelous. In the most complex role in the show, Melanson does the surface ‘doughnut eating cop’ with percolated moments of disgust, anger, and empathy. Taunting the deputy with ‘how young is the fantasy in your head?’ and toting a contract of ‘good-bad touches’ from his very young playmate, Will Kinnear (The Resident) is cocky and icky. Bringing a little comedy to the motel of pervs, Connor del Rio (18 year old male) is playful despite his damnation for having sex with his 15-year girlfriend. Grace Goble (Girl) is charmingly precocious with her bizarre collection of sex offender memorabilia. Jonathan Edwards (The Waiter) exploits the absurd with his know-it-all enlightenment from being saved. The entire ensemble goes the extra mile to ensure 2,000 FEET AWAY goes the distance.
Non-American Playwright Anthony Weigh paints a seemingly black and white picture using multiple colors. The layers of symbolism with the painting ‘American Gothic,’ childhood story of the Pied Piper, and feet make 2,000 FEET AWAY a portrait contemplation-worthy. Director and scenic designer Jimmy McDermott adds to the ‘art imitating life’ with a brilliant unframed moment. A few colors that didn’t quite blend for me in an otherwise perfect artistic expression: The annoying baby crying sound effect in the restaurant scene. It was ‘cell phone ringing in the theatre’ distracting from the action. In addition, some of the scene transitions seemed clunky and extended that disrupted the emotional build-up. And probably only true Chicagoans will know Weigh hasn’t been to our city or he would know Lake Michigan is 2,000 feet away from the Art Institute and you can’t miss it! Despite those speed bumps, 2,000 FEET AWAY is pure Monet. The look changes the closer you get to it!
Living 2,000 feet from Steep Theatre, the unflappable Bill describes the play as “stressful and tense.”