I'm a sucker for an interesting story," Leonard promptly informs us, then proceeds to tell one. For the next 80 minutes we enter the homes and minds of the neighbors who live on Leonard's suburban cul-de-sac. Three generations from a precocious thirteen-year-old girl to a retired veterinarian reveal their inner yearnings and dark secrets. We never learn the name of this street, but it might be called Spoon River Lane, for it shares the sorrowful tone of Edgar Lee Masters' cemetery ode, Spoon River Anthology. The difference here is that no one is dead. No one, that is, except Leonard.
The first thing to admire about Daniel MacIvor's Cul-de-sac is writing that deftly reveals character and imparts information in the slyest ways. Early on, for instance, when Leonard looks at his watch and says that although the timepiece used to be his, now "it's evidence," our curiosity is piqued. That's when we begin to realize that Leonard is as dead as Joe Gillis at the outset of Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. Leonard has been killed not in a swimming pool but in a pool of his own blood. More good writing: When one of the neighbors admiringly informs us that Leonard's house contains shelf upon shelf of books "and not a knickknack among them," in a single phrase we're able to visualize the décor of both homes.
Canadian playwright-actor MacIvor wrote this flashy script as a one-person showcase for himself, but Joe Hanrahan who sniffs out solo shows like a canine tracking drugs has a splendid time with it too. Hanrahan's victim is a sweet little guy. A little too gay for some neighbors' liking, but not in-your-face. He's quiet and unassuming, an unlikely hero. Hanrahan is nattily garbed in black; one senses that Leonard might enjoy attending his own funeral. Although initially his hands are clasped, as if in prayer, in time they become hyperactive storytelling tools. And when the fingers aren't animated, the knees are bending. If it's true that in death your life flashes before you, here we can envision Leonard at age five singing "I'm a Little Teapot."
At one point the play addresses "the possibility of transformation," and that's precisely what occurs here. Under the simpatico direction of Sarah Whitney (and with helpful lighting from Doug Hastings and Tom Newcomb), Hanrahan has a field day delineating the various neighbors male, female, young, old. Though they seem normal enough at a cursory glance, they all harbor secrets. In the aftermath of the Shawn Hornbeck revelation, as people are asking themselves how much they know or want to know about their neighbors, Cul-de-sac evokes an almost uncanny timeliness.
The script labors mightily in trying to distinguish between a cul-de-sac and a dead-end street. (The playbill cleverly includes a chart of the cul-de-sac, which helps to clarify the action.) But isn't the distinction simple? A cul-de-sac has a turnaround at the far end. There are no corners in a cul-de-sac, which is why this afterMidnight production has found the ideal stage at Technisonic Studios. The show is presented in a room without corners. From ceiling to floor, you only see curves.
By evening's end, the play throws us a curve of its own. Rather than building in suspense and tension as we approach Leonard's doom, the action begins to unravel. Once we've met everyone, the story has nowhere to go. The Christmas block party, which is meant to dazzle us because the same actor is changing character with every line, instead seems like a virtuoso trick. The minute Leonard leaves the party and the cul-de-sac, his narrative loses its focus and devolves into a male version of Looking for Mr. Goodbar. But until that point, and for most of this intriguing journey, Cul-de-sac impresses in both intent and execution.