Monday, June 03, 2024

"Long Way Down" at Olney Theatre

Content notes: On stage death by implied gunshot, grief, frequent use of prop gun, including pointing at the audience.

I listened to a podcast about resilience after natural disasters where they interviewed mental health specialists who had gone to Puerto Rico and talked about meeting folks for whom this was like the third or fourth life disaster they had faced. 
It was an accidental choice on my part, I just picked next episode on my way to the theater, but in many ways it was apt. 
I listened to the audiobook of Jason Reynolds "Long Way Down" years ago. 
It was turned into a one man play that I never managed to get to. But the story of Will who hops in an elevator with a gun after his brother is murdered, intent on evening the score, only to encounter ghosts of his past - well a one man play made sense. 
The book is short, making use of prose and wordplay in creative ways. 
A musical did not seem as obvious a choice. But we all know I love a musical. 
For the musical, we get to spend more time with some of the characters. We get to know Sean, Will's brother, and his mom, quickly in the first song. So that when Sean is killed in the third song, it's heartbreaking, even though you knew it was coming. 
The set design was fantastic, using a whirling, twirling elevator cage that fills up with ghosts. 
There are lovely little details. During one flashback moment, when Will remembers talking about grief with his mom and his brother, his mom sings about not pushing grief away, while Sean dances and teases Will behind her. 
And Will's uncle wears a Washington Bullets hat. 
The songs cover a range of styles. 
This was a really fascinating show, that adapted the source material in an interesting way. 
For those who haven't engaged with the material before, the book, and this musical version fall into what I often call conversation plays. Which is to say, it's about the questions raised, not the answers. It's a great story, but the ending is intentionally open ended. (Two theater-goers at my showing spotted an actor leaving and tried to get him to give them the answer. The actor wisely, but kindly, refused.)
So, you may want to go with a friend so you can all talk about it after. 

Covid note: Olney Theatre does not have a mask requirement, but they do have MERV air filtration that runs prior to and during the show, per their website.