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 The Theatreguide.London Review


2,000 Feet Away
Bush Theatre Summer 2008

Anthony Weigh's first play is a meditation on American Puritanism, the culture's ingrained fear of and fascination with sex.

Its method is elliptical and allusive - there's no sex in the play and the word is hardly mentioned. But while this is a literary strength, it is a dramatic weakness, since the playwright devotes so much creative energy to beating around the bush that there is very little sense of the bush left.

The play's dominant symbol is Grant Wood's painting American Gothic, the stern-looking farm couple posed in front of their barn-like house. The house still stands in the village (pop. 998) of Eldon, Iowa, where the bulk of Weigh's play is set.

2000 feet is the distance the law requires convicted sex offenders to live away from schools, playgrounds and the like, and in a small town this can be difficult. The Eldon of Weigh's imagination seems to generate a statistically unlikely number of such threats to society's comfort, and the play is about the residents' reactions to them.

The parents of one offender support their life of denial by commitment to old-fashioned mom-and-apple-pie values, typified by their entry in the annual American Gothic look-alike contest. One busybody devotes her days to chasing down each and every offender and making sure the sheriffs do their duty of moving them out. A pre-teen girl collects the warning photos and hangs them on her wall like pop stars.

At the centre of the play is the sheriff's deputy whose job is to enforce the 2000 feet law, which generally means moving the offenders to a run-down motel on the edge of town. He identifies with the second dominant symbol of the play, the Pied Piper, seeing himself as the one charged with ridding the town of rats but then stuck with the responsibility of what to do with them then - especially when there are no metaphoric rivers around.

Joseph Fiennes plays the deputy as a man defined by stress and bewilderment, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders and not sure how it got there. Ian Hart is an amiable but clearly still dangerous offender, Roger Sloman and Phyllis Logan are his frightened-and-trying-to-hide-that-fact-from-themselves parents, and Kirsty Bushell and Kevin Trainor play other townsfolk.

Josie Rourke's somewhat languid direction can't keep the play from feeling like an enervated imitation of Sam Shepard, more a set of clever literary conceits than an involving drama.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - 2,000 Feet Away - Bush 2008