Some theatre leaves an indelible mark on you, changes your perspective on life, art politics of philosophy or challenges your innermost perceptions of yourself and the world you live in. Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road is not that piece of theatre.
That is not to say it wasn’t a genuinely pleasant and enjoyable whimsical way to spend an evening, but to have your perceptions of the good people challenged by the thin dimensions added in the characterisation of the people who flit in and out of the lives of new roommates Mitch and JD you would have to have pretty low opinions of West Virginians in the first place. These supporting characters were taken from central casting a GTA game would be proud of (racist hillbilly, insecure, meth head, Jersey gangster) and each given a twist to try and round them out (a heart of gold, artist, poet!). To be shocked by these revelations you would have to believe that human being reverts to stereotype with no redeeming features. Which was hardly the message of the show as a whole.
The weakness of these characters matters less as the play is superbly carried by the two central performances. In particular, author Keith Stevenson as central character JD. Stevenson is completely believable as the affable, charming hillbilly who feeds, calms and soothes his neighbours, solving their dramas and bringing a non-judgemental love to their lives. The nervous and new Mitch is there to supply the audience’s sensibility to challenge and translate the other characters. He’s the everyman whose questioning of the people he comes across allows us access to their inner lives and thoughts. He’s also the butt of much of the comedy having let his job at the local spork factory fall through his sweaty hands. Mitch’s journey from the scared derision of JD’s circumstances to acceptance and joy in his character mirrors that of the audience.
This play won’t change your life. If you want insight into Trump’s America and the circumstances that led to his victory, stay in and read Hillbilly Elegy, but if you want a pleasant night out that will keep you entertained for the 70-minute duration of the play, this has enough heart and enough fun to make it worth your while.