The Down Low Is Like Living Inside a Tarantino Film For 75 Minutes
By Elaine Liner | Dallas Observer | May 6, 2015
Watching Danny O'Connor's new dark comedy one-act The Down Low, set in a 956-square-foot house on East Mockingbird Lane, is like living inside a Tarantino film for 75 minutes. Bad things happen to people just inches away from where you're sitting. Hilarious things, too. Every time there's a knock on that red front door, look out.
There are only 15 seats squeezed into a corner of the front room of the little old frame house in East Dallas where O'Connor, who also stars in his play, and five other actors perform a twisted murder mystery (produced by Audacity Theatre Lab and Octaviar Productions). The cast roams the whole house, though the audience sees only what happens in the living room. It's a semi-immersive experience, with some imagination needed to picture what's said to be going on behind those closed doors and down that darkened hallway.
"How do you get blood out of a carpet?" asks O'Connor's shook-up character, Aaron, at the top of the play. Aaron's best friend Simon (a wonderfully twitchy Jeff Swearingen) has just arrived, summoned by Aaron to deal with an emergency situation in a back bedroom.
There's the body of a dead brain surgeon back there, lying naked next to Aaron's bed. A little misunderstanding during a sexual encounter has left the surgeon deceased and Aaron with a gushing stab wound in his left arm. Aaron's not sure what to do about the "sorta murder" he's committed, which he tells Simon began with his answering a Craigslist sex ad. "Craigslist! Have some self-respect," huffs Simon.
Before long, the living room gets crowded. Roommate Raymond (Brian Grunkowski, who also directed) wafts in from his bedroom, looped out on mushrooms and oblivious to Aaron and Simon's panic over the corpse. Roommate Jack, a nurse in blue scrubs, bops in from his shift at the hospital and starts drinking heavily. His Polish-model girlfriend Kassia (Robin Clayton, great at deadpan delivery) leads Jack to another bedroom for a quick boff before they're informed about the dead body. Then comes Cindy (Mercedes Arndt), a precocious teen who's stalking Aaron, who happens to be her high school health teacher. She's swept into the plan to dispose of the body and seems unfazed by all of the nefarious goings-on.
More blood and nasty secrets are spilled by these character in the R-rated (for language and fluids) play. The Down Low's writing is devilishly fresh -- O'Connor's biographical one-man show Bouncing Ugly was a hit at last summer's Dallas Solo Fest -- and the acting is tempered to the right level of reality for the in-your-face space.
O'Connor, who's in this 30s, shows more subtlety as a writer than as an actor. He's a big, hulking bald guy, which gives his scenes with the much-shorter, slighter Swearingen a visually funny Laurel-and-Hardy contrast. But he's a delicately specific playwright, putting pointed details into his dialogue that give his characters texture. Kassia isn't just a model, for example, but a model for "trade shows for Swiss chocolates and pajama jeans."
Grunkowski, as director, makes the house environment a flexible stage for the actors to prowl. The timing of entrances and exits feels natural and the choreography of a silent action scene in and out of the kitchen is tight and funny.
One late-in-the-show jiggling of the front door knob has a jump-out-of-your-seat effect on the audience. And that's not the last entertaining surprise that arises from The Down Low.
The Down Low continues through May 16 at 5922 E. Mockingbird Lane (between Greenville Avenue and Skillman Street, the house with the red door). Tickets, $15, 469-546-9127 or audacitytheatrelab.com/tickets.