By Paul Love
“The Long Road” is Shelagh Stephenson’s exploration into the realm of grief, loss, and forgiveness, based on prisoner research, and produced for the first time at London’s Soho Theatre a decade ago. The Durham Shoestring Performers are currently presenting this intense drama.
A happy, unassuming family is torn asunder when Danny Pritchard, a mere 18 years old, is killed by a young stranger (Katie Lunman) in a random, senseless attack. Left to pick up the pieces of their broken lives are Danny’s mother, Mary (Raissa Chernushenko), father, John (Kevin Shaver), and his older brother, Joe (Carey Risman). Each member struggles in their own way to come to terms with Danny’s absence from their lives.
I must say that it was a refreshing choice by Director Joe Szekeres to keep the play set in London while dispensing with potentially distracting British accents.
As Danny’s brother, Joe, Carey Risman is locked in and ready to go from the second the lights come up. His opening monologue, wherein he describes the moment where he witnessed Danny’s murder, is a punch to the gut that immediately and succinctly sets the tone for the entire play. The way in which his Joe is giving an account of the events of the murder, while trying to make sense of them at the same time, is remarkable. Mr. Risman creates a character who is very human and real. His struggle to be loved by parents who are emotionally damaged is heartbreaking.
Kevin Shaver presents us a father who is dealing with his grief by finding a means of escape from the pain. At first he takes up running, but eventually that gives way to a deep cycle of drinking. Mr. Shaver portrays John as a proud man who doesn’t want to be treated any differently than he was before Danny was killed. Seeing John struggle to maintain his sense of dignity while the alcohol turns him into a stumbling, disheveled, angry man is tragic. In lesser hands, this character could’ve been easily unlikeable, but Mr. Shaver makes you hurt right along with him and hope he finds his way back.
Katie Lunman plays the young killer, Emma Price, with a put-upon energy that perfectly belies the frightened young woman inside. Much of the time, Ms. Lunman’s Emma grandstands from behind her carefully constructed emotional wall, smirking and ranting about the evils of avocado and which liqueurs are the best. It’s in the moments where Emma struggles to pull down the wall and connect with someone — anyone — that Ms. Lunman is truly riveting to watch. Patti Wilson, as social worker Elizabeth McKellan, gives you the sense of a woman who is adept at keeping her emotions in check even when they’re bursting at the seams, leaving Ms. Wilson to do some wonderful characterization with her eyes. The contrast created by these two performances is powerful to watch.
Mothers are arguably the centre of every good family, and Raissa Chernushenko’s performance as Mary is the beating heart of this production. Not content to accept the notion that she needs to move on with her life, Mary struggles with why it has happened and what must she do to forgive her son’s killer, if anything. Ms. Chernushenko’s journey of emotions from deep sadness to confusion, anger, hope, fear, and frustration while she screams and sobs and struggles to keep her surviving family intact is heart-rending and a wonder to behold.
Mr. Szekeres staged the production well; movement was kept to a minimum, appropriately supplanted by the powerful dialogue of this piece. The transitional music by Elius Caruso struck just the right tone, and the Peter Katz song “Forgiveness” made for a poignant finish.
“The Long Road” has only two remaining performances — November 9th and 10th at the Arts Resource Centre, 45 Queen St, Oshawa. Both shows are at 8 pm. Tickets are available at the door or visit the website for more information.