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Way Downriver: An amazing West Coast Premiere

Front -  Richard Baird Back L to R Robert Grossman & Benjamin Cole

Way Downriver: An amazing West Coast Premiere

By Alejandra Enciso

In society day to day, we are faced with the decision of doing what is right. But sometimes, going down the right path does not guarantee a good outcome. So, after going down the right path and being slammed with a bad outcome, what is next? This and more is what we see in Way Downriver. A story that takes place in 1927 at Parchman State Penal Farm, Mississippi.
North Coast Repertory Theatre staying true to its mission, brings once again, an extraordinary piece. Way Downriver, based on William Faulkner’s short story ‘Old Man’, came alive to the San Diego stage in an adaptation by Edward Morgan.

Ike (Robert G. Grossman) is playing his guitar, while Tommy listens but cannot do so quietly. He questions everything all the time. Tommy lost his cellmate Aikins (Richard Baird) in the great Mississippi flood. His body was never found so he was declared dead. People in the flood needed to be rescued; among them, Ellie (Sarah Fetgatter) a very pregnant lady. So, imposing Warden Percy (John Herzog) recruits ‘volunteers’ to literally go get their feet wet. Aikins sincerely offered to go and… did not… die. After a very hard struggle for survival, Aikins returns to the Farm with the boat he was ordered to bring back. Well, guess what? He is legally dead and his pension has been cashed. We then see three people in a cell for two. Time shifts and Aikins explains what happened, where he was at that moment and why he chose to come back even knowing everybody thought he was dead.

Richard Baird’s delivery is majestic. Aikins is a man full of passion and strong character yet, with a big heart and truly repented from his bad actions in the past. Another hit in the mark for Way Downriver is Marty Burnett’s set design. Simple, bare. Something that is not usual with NCR since we usually see gorgeous, detailed design. This was another side of the coin for the theatre company and, a very on point one. Robert Grossman is ovation worthy. Playing the soundtrack to this story during the whole performance. Flawless. Downriver is all Baird and Grossman. Their performance is so powerful that the person in that seat will be immersed in their voice and that penetrating look. Sarah Fetgatter as Ellie is the perfect complement to that all male cast. Her tone subtle yet strong. A perfect accent. We all fall in love at the same time with Aikins, guided by Ellie’s hand. This piece definitely is thought provoking and very well put together. All the right elements. Director David Ellenstein is a sensitive and creative artist. Way Downriver runs until Sunday May 8th. Ticket prices start at $43.00. For more information, please visit HERE.

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