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 motives."

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

"Morrison is 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 Award.


What Did James Say?

DB:  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 spell-binding.

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?

 JM:  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 not.


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