"Thou shalt not be bored" is David Marquis's eleventh commandment, and if the events he recounts in Down a Long Road are accurate, he has done a great job of living by it. But while audiences at the new show at the Lambs Theatre may not have much trouble adhering to it either, they're not likely to be particularly invigorated or entertained, either.
How many people can really relate to all Marquis has done? A peace activist and self-styled adventurer from Texas who has journeyed to South Africa, Pakistan, the Philippines, El Salvador, and Nicaragua (to name a few), Marquis has been in the thick of things most of us only know about from reading newspapers or watching television. A show detailing all of this could work only if the central figure could wrap you up in his world and make you feel a significant part of all he's experienced.
That's what Down a Long Road doesn't succeed in accomplishing. Neither the work of director Doug Jackson or Marquis seem as interested in involving others in the story as much as they do in getting as much of it out as possible. This is most strongly reflected in Marquis's often rushed delivery, which feels like an unstructured overview of his life that has been scribbled instead of painted, sampled rather than savored.
Marquis's voyages and activities are impressive, but most of this presentation of them feels like a travelogue combined with an anthropology lecture. The sparse set (also by Jackson) and marauding lights (Linda Blase) don't help as much as they evoke too strongly the dramatic clash of worlds that Marquis never really plays out. There's also a live three-piece ensemble to provide musical atmosphere, whether sampling one of the countries Marquis has visited or even the music of James Brown. Hardly unpredictable, yet far from unpleasant.
Then, of course, there are the obligatory important, if familiar, messages to be found along the way - the freedom of voting that Americans take for granted, the relationships of people of all skin colors and nationalities, how small events can bring everyone together. But through Marquis's descriptions of his travels, you're likely to learn little you didn't already know; Marquis's messages come across best (and most creatively) when he's trying the least, which isn't often.
But when Marquis leaves his passport behind and turns his keen eye inward, Down a Long Road becomes more captivating. His personal stories about his grandmother, mother, father, wife, and grandchild connect and move effortlessly. All of this conveys the meaning those people and events bear to him more succinctly than the other kinetic and moralizing tales he relates elsewhere; his delivery, hushed and reverent, itself speaks volumes.
In contrast with the over-expended energy elsewhere, the simple staging and speech in these moments suggest they are where the true influence on Marquis's life - and the true meat of dramatic presentation - could be found. Not only is it something everyone can relate to, it's something Marquis can truly relate to them; that's something integral enough for everyone to go the theatre and expect. While Marquis could do much, much more to bring people together through Down a Long Road, he achieves it in those few but stirring moments he reveals himself to be a person as well, succeeding despite the considerably different agenda (and tactics) he obviously had in mind.
Down a Long Road