The descent of horrible


Line of Descent will make its world première at Riverside Theater on Friday.
By Isaac Hamlet

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“It’s about four really awful people trying to outdo each other, all while wearing a very thin veil of politeness,” said director Sam Osheroff.

This dark comedy is set in the wake of a wealthy woman’s death and finds conniving mourners attempting to concoct a means to claim the dead woman’s fortune.

“We’re all horrible,” said John Cameron, a University of Iowa theater professor who had rehearsed the role of Douglas, but because of complications was replaced on Tuesday with Steven Mark Weiss, a Coe College professor. “I think when you have four terrible people who are all without a sense of morality, then chaos ensues because everyone’s trying to take care of themselves.”

This sinister quartet comprises Douglas, Harry — a con man with numerous alter egos — the pompous pedant Anna, who is cut out of the family, and Laura, a seemingly naïve dreamer.

“It’s like she’s simultaneously connected to another plane or another universe,” said Kris Danford, the actor who plays Laura. “She’s present, but she’s scattered and blithe.”

That may sound like a person who might struggle to stand up to the crowd of manipulators she faces. But over the course of the play, it should become clear the characters each have a unique flavor of villainy.

“Laura cares really only about being happy,” Danford said. “She comes into this house with these other three characters, and over the course of the play, she’s corrupted somewhat, and we see all of the hidden aspects of her personality.”

This is to say nothing of Douglas Marshal, who just wants to “live in beautiful surroundings, not be bothered by the outside world, and to always remain at the age at which [he] first experienced love,” if it’s not too much to ask.

“The challenge is finding that darkness in a fun way,” said Rian Jairell, the actor portraying Harry. “In many ways, it’s a comedy of manners. People talk and are polite to each other in what they say, while there’s this dark undertone, which is true for my character especially.”

Jairell’s favorite part of farces, such as this one, is the 180-degree twists, the reversals in tone that catch the audience off-guard. A particular experience he had embodies the kind of humor he feels the play provides.

“When I was in college, I worked in a college bookstore, and one of the ladies there was talking about her son,” Jairell said. “She was totally dead serious and said, ‘He gets in so much trouble, I’m going to kill him.’ Then someone walked by with a plate of goodies, and she said ‘Oh, cookies.’ I laughed out loud. I keep coming back to that; there’s something hilarious about that kind of abrupt switch.”

Audiences will enjoy the mounting antics of the characters, and the cast will delight in the opportunity to act out despicable deeds.

“Being a terrible person is just fun,” Cameron said. “I get to be all the things I don’t get to [normally] be.”

These amoral characters and their many machinations sprang from the imagination of playwright William McCauley, whose play wound up at Riverside because of a reference from a friend.

Despite being in New York, McCauley provided input to Osheroff on the production through phone and email. Because of the distance, his first time seeing the show will be Tuesday, Feb. 2nd.

“It’s been really satisfying to see, each time we work through it, the performance getting tighter and faster,” Osheroff said.

He noted that McCauley’s play required such speed and precision that normal blocking ended up feeling more like choreography. McCauley has built a script that’s not only quick-witted, Osheroff said, but also quick in a very literal sense.

“Farces are hard to rehearse; they’re so specific it can be grueling work in the beginning stages,” Danford said. “Then, once you get all that groundwork laid, it’s like a roller-coaster ride, and you have to be on your toes every moment. It’s super high energy, and it never stops going.”

This being the first time the production has been performed, McCauley and those involved want audiences to be surprised. Ideally, everyone will be able to sit back and let the actors carry them from one chaotic twist to another.

“This is a really fast-paced, stylized, funny farce that has pithy social commentary jokes in it,” Osheroff said. “This is a play that’s really apt for college students. It’s fast and sensationally wicked, and when that speed and wit come together, it really catches.”
Line of Descent
Where: Riverside Theater, 213 N. Gilbert
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Jan.31; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m.Sundays through Feb. 21
Admission: $12-$30


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