August 8 - September 17, 1989, DOWN THE ROAD
opened at the La Jolla Playhouse in La Jolla, California.
The play was a World Premiere of Lee Blessing's
contemporary drama about a serial killer, William Reach,
played by James Morrison.
William Reach is serving a life sentence without
possibility of parole in a maximum-security prison in an
unnamed state. Reach enigmatically admits more than once
that he killed "at least 19" females including
one young, fifth-grade girl. And he argues they were
killings, not murders, because "murders have
Reach murdered the young women, chosen because they
"looked right," whenever the urge came over
him. Frequently he raped them, often he mutilated them
and nearly always dropped the bodies into the same remote
canyon. "Is it rape if they're already dead?"
Reach asks at one point, striving for accuracy. As Reach
sits shackled inside his backwater prison, two writers
take turns recording what he chooses to tell them.
Taking up indefinite residence at a motel 10
miles from the prison are the husband-wife writing team
of Daniel and Iris Henniman, who will take turns
interviewing Reach for the definitive book on his life
and his victims' deaths. Iris is an experienced hand at
such work and is eager to get on with it. Daniel is an
experienced writer but a novice at the assignment he's
now undertaking, and he's leery of it.
The play alternates between the motel room with exchanges
between Iris and Daniel and an interview room in the
prison with exchanges between Reach and either Iris or
Daniel. As the interviews go on, a strange thing happens.
Iris and Daniel undergo a sort of transformation, a
drastic and damaging reversal in attitude. Daniel becomes
increasingly fascinated by Reach; Iris increasingly
repelled. She tries to make her husband see the
immorality of what they're doing. "He created
himself, victim by victim," she says.
They begin this exploration not just because of
Reach's swaggering evil but also because of the couple's
unseen publisher. He wants a book that will sell the
sensation, not address the dilemmas. As Reach visualizes
a title containing the word, "blood," the
publisher starts talking about going directly into
paperback and calling networks.
The one constant thing throughout the play is Reach, who
is never affected by guilt or remorse. He is driven to be
someone, however despicable, and he will be. He will
insidiously intrude himself into the lives of Iris and
Daniel. He will use anyone and any method to get what he
wants. And if it's not accomplished through Iris and
Daniel; it will be through someone else. He may be a
sociopath, but he knows the publishing business. He knows
what sells. Synopsized from reviews by Bill Hagen,
Film/Theater Critic for San Diego Tribune and Welton
Jones, Theatre Critic for San Diego Union
positively chilling as the conscienceless Reach, a clever
man who can be coy, charming, furious -- whatever mood
suits his purpose." Bill Hagen
"James Morrison plays William Reach with meticulous
crescendo of repulsive power that eventually swallows the
rest of the play." Welton Jones
"James Morrison's gripping portrayal of Reach is at
the forefront of the play's effectiveness. His killer is
cold-hearted, yet forthrightly honest and unflinching in
his telling of the gory details of his heinous crimes.
Morrison plays the kind of devious, cool mannered,
totally amoral character with fine acting skill. At all
times he remains as real as someone featured in today's
newscast. It is a wonderful performance, bone-chilling to
watch." D. Larry Steckling for Drama-Logue
Awards: James Morrison was nominated for the San Diego
Critics Circle Award. He received the 1989 Drama-Logue
Did James Say?
Actors are frequently called on to portray feelings and expressions for
which they have had no experience. For example, take the play, DOWN THE ROAD.
Your portrayal of serial killer William Reach's anger and intensity was
How do you prepare yourself for these kind of roles, how do you maintain the
intensity and how do you get out of the role at the end of the day?
DOWN THE ROAD was being written as we rehearsed so everyday was an
adventure. We were literally being taken "down the road" by the story
and it was easy to surrender to the journey. The director, Des McAnuff, made it
as enjoyable a process as one could by showing us films, keeping it light
through the rehearsal days. He turned it into a learning process. A lesser
director wouldn't have done so. We explored an incompressible and heinous aspect
of human nature and it was rather enjoyable. That's not to say we _took_ it
lightly but we had to maintain a positive stance through what became a horrific
trip through the mind of a serial killer, or rather, several serial killers
since William Reach was a composite personality. As for "maintaining the
intensity," like everything else, if you saturate your imagination with the
task at hand, there is no room for anything else. The more intense or invasive
the subject matter is, of course, the easier it is but it's mainly a matter of
focus and willingness to submit. There's a period in the process where you
_don't_ get out of it. You think about the circumstances of the story and only
that because the more you do the more it means to you. (The more it means to
you, the more it means to someone watching you.) You live it and breathe it and
dream it. Then it relaxes into you - or you relax into it, or both - and you can
summon it at will (or it summons you). Once you've reached that saturation
point. And then you just do the job. At 8 o'clock you're there and at 10 you're