The Distance from Here

Santa Monica Playhouse


Dean of the current crop of brilliantly dark and twisted theatrical wordsmiths recording the ever-crumbling American dream is Neil LaBute, who puts the human flotsam and jetsam of contemporary culture right up there for all to see. Almost too obviously echoing Edward Bond’s notoriously grizzly late-50s crowd-stunner Saved, LaBute’s equally super-gritty The Distance from Here, now unfolding at the Santa Monica Playhouse’s Other Space, is perhaps his most disturbing, an almost claustrophobic look at a new generation of crippled citizens of the world learning all the wrong lessons from their equally dysfunctional and emotionally shredded parents.


It’s a grim existence facing LaBute’s incredibly angry teenaged grunge-era anti-hero Darell (a haunting Blake Hood), who careens through his depressed and depressing wasteland of modern suburban life by ditching school, taunting the equally caged real primates at the local zoo, copying homework, torturing his girlfriend Jenn (Katie Featherstone) with suspicions both grounded and not, and groveling for cash handouts from everyone he encounters in his grim little life.

Darell’s nightmarish dead-end existence living with his childlike bargirl mother Cammie (Jocelyn Towne) and her Gulf War-traumatized casualty of a boyfriend Rich (Matt Berg) is best exemplified by the kid’s constant mantra: “Whatever.” Darell’s life is a meandering blur of playing alpha-dog with his meek best friend Tim (Shaun Anthony), barely avoiding the amorous advances of his miserable baby-tethered half-sister Shari (Jen Bronstein), and without a doubt readying himself to pass on his disturbing emotional malnutrition to yet another future generation.

If anything hampers this production, it’s the feeling its youthful ensemble is a tad too scrubbed and Hollywood-healthy. Although every one of these actors is obviously capable of creating an indelible character and finding arresting moments, under Brian Frederick’s direction and with the exception of Anthony’s brittle and quietly heartbreaking Tim, the cast uniformly delivers performances seemingly unable to transform as the story unfolds; instead, there is a homogeneous sense of reliance on repetitious film-bred character traits that work so well when emoting in short takes oncamera.


Still, Hood in the demanding leading role and The Distance From Here’s committed supporting castmembers each offer incredibly frightening and desperately wrenching flashes of brilliance, often finding just the right buttons to push to chronicle the bitter future faced by a people overwhelmed by the millennium’s unbridled apathy, ravaged by political greed, and damned by disintegrating family values fostered by our society’s multi-leveled poverty.

Now all this gifted cast needs to do is dig a little bit deeper.

The Distance from Here plays through May 20 at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; for tickets, call (818) 986-9817.

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing.