I’d like to applaud Justin Hayford for the praise he extends to Viaduct Theater’s production of Denis Johnson’s Hellhound on My Trail [September 27]. However, the cursory way he dismisses the third act–“only in the last third
of the final scene does his sense of drama fall apart completely”; “neither he nor Cass seems to have much stake in the action, and the play simply dribbles away”–simply dumbfounds me, and suggests he missed something vital about the scene.
His sense of drama falls apart? The third act is the play’s drama, reminding us just why all the bureaucratic doublespeak that came before it was so farcical, why the leveling of human tragedy and mere spectacle was so unsettling. Every motif in the play is intensified: the mistaken identities are of a divine nature, the evidence is much harder–a gun! bullet holes! bags of cocaine!–and, for all of Mrs. May’s talk of “history” in the first act, the third act is set in what may be an actual crime scene (“the Green Room”) and where something unequivocally historical takes place.
Not much at stake? What about life and death, true damnation, the future of a church, a man’s redemption? All this in a seedy motel room, curtained off far from the corridors of power, with a stinking loser who just might be an instrument of God. Whose complexities, it should be noted, are captured perfectly by Steve Walker.
I’m glad you devoted so many graphs to the first act–it deserved it–and can only guess you had to reach a snap judgment about the third because of time and space concerns. (And by “time” I mean you must have written it on Opposite Day, and by “space” I mean the home planet of Bizarro Superman, where everything is backwards.)