Viewer Discretion Advised is about a chance encounter between mild mannered Norm and a mysterious stranger that starts at uneasy, takes you on past creepy, veers off into inappropriate and drops you off at completely bizarre. For Norm, it’s a cautionary tale about letting strangers into your home and into your life. For the audience, it’s a peek inside the twisted mind of a man who likes to take things too far.
Written by Ed Stevens and directed by Cynthia Dillon, View Discretion Advised starts off easily and amiably. It’s clear from the beginning that Norm (Carson Alexander) likes to play by the rules – and if he’s guilty of anything, it’s of being a nice guy. We come upon him as he’s just met Bud (Bob D’Haene) who he found walking along the shoulder of the road. Feeling sorry for a guy who (Norm jumps to the conclusion) probably had a road mishap, he offers to drive Bud to his destination. As Norm dashes inside to quickly change before they hit the road again, Bud lingers. Can he have a beer? . . . “Ahhh, twist off” he observes disdainfully though he accepts the beer and the hospitality without a backwards glance.
Bud seems to notice a lot . . . and he has a way of commenting on his observations that would make anyone ill at ease. Norm, however, is either too nice, too polite, or too clueless to put Bud in his place. Attempts to hustle Bud out of the house are quickly steamrolled by another round of twenty questions. For a while this uneasy cat and mouse game just seems to twist tighter and tighter as the men get closer and closer. Bud begins to take on the role of confidant, psychiatrist, and confessor. He pokes at the spineless Norm until he knows his host’s fears, his secrets, his relationship status . . . heck, he even challenges him to a wrestling match to make Norm prove that he’s not gay. All the while, Norm makes half hearted attempts to hustle them back on the road, using the excuse of needing to get to his girlfriends house. This news doesn’t sit well with new best pal Bud.
What follows is a series of uncomfortable moments, taunting dares, and a sneaking suspicion that all is not as it seems. When uninformed Anne (Katelin Wilcox) arrives on the scene the story takes a sharp left turn as Bud begins to pressure Norm into acting on all the scenarios Bud had been whispering in his ear all evening. What happens next is not only unexpected but downright chilling.
With his gangly body language and sweet emoting, Carson Alexander is the perfect, pliable, patsy. His everyman persona wins the audience over – and when he begins to sink in the quicksand that Bud creates around him we can feel ourselves sink right along with him. In perfect contrast, Bob D’Haene has a wily and dangerous streak that sets you on edge from the moment he starts his game. It’s as if his muscles are always tense for a fight, his words are always tinged with a veneer of sarcasm, or taunting, or both. D’Haene’s physicality is perfect for the mysterious Bud – compact but strong, he looks like he could pounce and overpower you in one quick move. Alexander’s sweet Norm is like a bunny staring at a python.
What playright Stevens has given the audience here is a one long feeling of uneasiness. At no moment do we feel that this new friendship will end well - the short, clipped conversations, the constant weaving in and out, the inability for anything to lead to anything conclusively; Stevens has taken the mundane task of being a good Samaritan to a different level. Dillon’s direction makes even some of the slower scene quiver with anxiety; the silences become hiding places and there’s no telling what’s lurking there.
View Discretion Advised will have you thinking twice next time someone you don’t know asks you for a ride home. It may just be a ride to a place you never intended to go.
~~~Viewer Discretion Advised Playwright Ed Stevens Director Cynthia Dillon Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm Through October 2nd The Kraine Theater 85 East 4th Street, NYC Click here for tickets