Everyone was affected by the fallout of 9/11 in different ways; Ashlin Halfnight's new play A Hard Wall at High Speed examines a fictionalized account of one man's life as everyone's world came tumbling down.
Donnie (Tom O'Keefe) seems to have it all; he flies planes and gives flight lessons for a living, business is looking good, his wife June (Sarah Kate Jackson) is pregnant, and they have a lovely home somewhere in the Florida Keys (an impressive, very Floridian set design by Stephen K. Dobay). The only minor blight on their idyllic existence is that Donnie's madcap brother Trout (Johnny Pruitt) is living in the basement with his zany girlfriend Marcy (Ryan Templeton). Most of the first half of the play feels like a sitcom a la Yes Dear, concentrating on the wacky Trout and Marcy's conflicts with the more staid family above.
"And then the world went crazy" is a line from the play, and the tagline on the poster; when September 11th happens, everything changes for the family. SPOILER ALERT follows: June goes into labor the next day, Trout cleans up his act to join the Navy, and it comes out in the investigation that flight instructor Donnie is the one who unwittingly trained the terrorists to fly planes. Donnie is trashed in the media, his family begins getting death threats, no one wants him to fly anymore, and as his livelihood is taken away, Donnie spirals into a terrible depression.
The play is interesting, though may prove triggering for some audience members. It's difficult to watch, as the second half is rather bleak (there is no intermission, so there's no opportunity to escape the gloom), but the actors give it their all. O'Keefe's performance is a fascinating study of a man in crisis; even when his dark side comes out, we fully empathize with his struggles. Jackson is delightfully sarcastic in the first half of the play, though the script leads her into nagging shrew territory for most of the second half. Pruitt is funny as the ne'er-do-well Trout. Templeton gives a fantastic layered and dynamic performance as Marcy, turning what could be a stock ditzy gal comic relief character into a fully-rounded woman.
I grew up in Florida, and it seemed unlikely that there would be a basement in a house in the Florida Keys- the water table there makes that unusual. Donnie also mentions that he (and I assume his brother) grew up in the Keys, so it also seems unlikely that, having grown up so close to a notoriously gay-friendly area like Key West, Trout would be as homophobic as he is (he has an entire random rant about how Tom Hanks' character in Cast Away is a "gaybo on a beach" and "fag on a deserted island" because he named his companion volleyball Wilson... No one mentions that Wilson is the sporting goods company that makes the volleyball). But these are minor quibbles.
As usual, APAC's technical stuff is top-notch; I already mentioned the great set. Becky Bodurtha's costumes, Cat Tate Stammer's lighting, Nathan A. Roberts's Sound Design and original music, and Ashley Cavada's props are all great. May Adrales directs with an eye for telling detail. Though their new play reading series has been running for some time, this is APAC's first full production of a new play, and I hope to see more in future.
A HARD WALL AT HIGH SPEED plays the following schedule through Saturday, November 19: Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Tickets are $18, available online at www.apacny.org or by calling 866-811-4111. Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the Theatre Box Office, 30 minutes prior to the performance.
Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 30-44 Crescent St (@30th Rd), Astoria, NY 11102
Photo Credit: Jen Maufrais Kelly
L-R: Tom O'Keefe* as Donnie, Johnny Pruitt* as Trout and Ryan Templeton as Marcy