Theatre 22 and ActLab Present “Downstairs” at ACT

Taut! Touching! Terrific!

“Downstairs,” by Theresa Rebeck is a play that quickly captures your attention and just doesn’t let it go. Troubled family relationships played out by superb actors have always been the meat of some of the best theatre of all time, and that’s certainly the case here.

Teddy (Brandon Ryan) is brushing his teeth when we meet him in a cellar where tools hang on the wall; blankets lie in disarray on a couch, and stairs lead up. Clearly he’s living in this make-do unfinished basement. It’s a haven for a man with job failures and emotional problems, and Teddy has both. His sister has come to his rescue at a time when he certainly needs it.

But playwright Rebeck won’t settle for a single-issue plot focusing on Teddy. His sister Irene (Christine Marie Brown) has some troubles of her own. She’s married to and managed by the sadistic, controlling Gerry (John Q. Smith), a real monster. She copes by making believe all is well in her life, finding alternative reasons for cruel and corrupt happenings.

Teddy sees Gerry for the monster he is, so, of course, Gerry wants Teddy gone. This is not a “happily ever after” story.

Director Julie Beckman controls her stage with a deft hand. The acting here is simply wonderful. There’s not a false move, and the tension builds with a ferocity that’s stunning. All three actors are remarkable in defining their type, but John Q. Smith, perhaps because his character is so malevolent, must be given special mention. He exudes malice and cruelty. He’s one scary dude.

Theatre 22 selected this previously unproduced play from the 100 scripts it solicited in 2016. Interestingly, the play will also open at the Dorset Theatre Festival in Vermont later this month starring Tyne Daly, Tim Daly and John Procaccino. My guess is that it will soon be on stages around the country, but none with better acting than in this production.

Through July 9 at The Bullitt Cabaret at ACT, 700 Union Street, Seattle, 206 292-7676 or 206 257-2203, or www.theatre22.org.

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