As the lights come up on Key to a Dark and Lonely Night we see a haggard fellow taking a slug from a bottle of Jack Daniels. He has a bristly beard, rumpled clothes. He seems highly agitated. He keeps looking out the kitchen window, which is boarded up. The refrigerator is pushed up against the door. Someone bangs on it from time to time. Our hero talks about the past, addressing perhaps a guy named Dave, or himself, or the audience. Perhaps all three. He has fond memories of their halcyon days, going camping at Roaring Springs. Like countless teenage boys, they brought numerous controlled substances so they could kick back and get messed up. He chuckles when he remembers driving off all the campers, when their rowdy celebration got too loud.
There are several black flags to signal us that something’s off. He keeps boxing his head as if his memory (or brain) is malfunctioning. Sometimes he stands in the corner, facing away. He keeps coming back to the same last pill, the same drink, the same empty cigarette pack, over and again. He seems to return repeatedly to one particular night when a third guy, Eric, gets so drunk, he must grab the axe away before Eric mutilates himself. Our narrator seems to be defending himself to someone we can’t see, or perhaps reach a point of clarity.
Kenneth Grammer’s piece is at once deeply troubling, confounding, mysterious and sad. There is something frantic about the narrator. Something that suggests he’s actually trapped by circumstances, not a catastrophe of his own making. Pretty early we realize something terrible’s happened, though his explanation circles back and forth, without naming it. When he repeats the crazy behavior of he and Dave (and sometimes Eric) indeed it seems no different than the kind if mischief teenage boys have gotten into for centuries. Our heart breaks for him. There’s little (if anything) to suggest sociopathy or rage or intense alienation. There’s something almost childlike about his behavior. Scared, ashamed, lost. When Dark and Lonely Night reaches its shocking conclusion, we are not sure it happened before or after the scene we’ve just witnessed. Suddenly we must rethink the story we’ve just seen. This is cunning drama of the first order.
Ochre House presents: Ghosts In The Kitchen Virtual Theatre Series: Key to a Dark and Lonely Night: written and performed by Kevin Grammer. Online at: www.ochrehousetheater.org. Admission: Pay Online: $10. For assistance: (214) 826-6273.