Onstage / INTERROGATION ROOM
RLTP reprises an early hit
The original production of Interrogation Room featured the late Dee Lamont Perry (left), Matt Witten (center), and the late John Buscaglia, who won an Artie for the role of Gordon Peck.
Interrogation Room opens November 1 at Road Less Traveled, 456 Main Street (roadlesstraveledproductions.org; 716-629-3069
This month, Road Less Traveled Productions brings back co-founder Jon Elston’s Artie award-winning Interrogation Room sixteen years after its 2003 debut (shown above) during the company’s humble beginnings. “The original inspiration for Interrogation Room dates back to an NPR program that documented a series of cases in which homicide detectives had coerced confessions from suspects under the age of eighteen,” says the playwright. “This represented the first time I became aware that police may secure arrests, indictments, and even convictions through lies and falsehood.”
The play portrays two evenings inside the titular location. On the first, two homicide detectives interview a fourteen-year-old male about the details of a terrible crime. Two weeks later, the detectives are back in the same room attempting to corroborate a series of statements from a witness and struggling to reconcile the witness’s shifting statements with the version of events they’re committed to. Everything combusts from there.
The show’s resurrection in 2019 is interesting, says Elston, who believes the play’s events may actually have strained credibility sixteen years ago. “Today,” he says, “the play’s premise seems more familiar. So in one sense, it functions as a period piece, a window into the recent past when Americans weren’t paying as close attention to what the police were up to and therefore we were allowing them to get away with a lot more.”
The character of Gordon Peck, the material witness who takes center stage in the second act, also seems more familiar today. “He’s an older white man with a lot of money and some public cachet,” offers Elston. “He loves throwing his weight around, manipulating circumstances, and browbeating everyone that he perceives as beneath him. He’s also extremely comfortable with saying any outrageous and/or inflammatory thing he pleases, under the expectation that he will at no time be held responsible for the consequences of his statements or the inherent truth of those statements. In 2003, audiences thought he was a wildly entertaining yet wholly fantastical boogeyman. In 2019, Gordon Peck seems alarmingly familiar and all too relevant...”
The revised version of the play is firmly set in the first couple of years of this millennium in Amherst, New York, but the biggest change is that the central role of Detective Bremen—played by the late Dee Perry in the world premiere—will now be played by a woman, Tanika Holmes. “The play was always about race, but the world premiere production showed us two black men and two white men talking about race, and how the issue of race is or is not influencing their circumstances and their conflicts,” says Elston. “The new production now incorporates a woman into the conversation. Will that essentially recontextualize the conversation and the dynamic in some subtle yet inescapable ways? You bet your ass it will.”
Matt Witten returns to the show, graduating from his role of Detective Janetty to the role of Gordon Peck. Elston recalls that a favorite memory from the original production was watching the late John Buscaglia, as Peck, “manfully struggle to keep his performance on track each night amidst consistent and vocal audience response, sometimes even loud direct threats to his bodily person. I have every confidence that Matt will incite all the florid audience passions that John did, and then some.”