Edinburgh Fringe 2010
This two-hander explores a world in which River Phoenix, child star and drug addict, faked his death, an overdose outside The Viper Rooms in West Hollywood on Halloween morning and went into hiding in the basement of an eleven year old girl. This simply staged, questioning duologue attempts to explore the effects of fame gotten all too soon and the pressures of finding out who your heroes and friends truly are.
In darkness, a startlingly blonde man, plays guitar, sitting on a pair of stacked mattresses beside a pile of books. Lit only by three desk lamps arranged on the floor beside him he systematically goes to turn them off, lays down and begins to cry. This Is River Phoenix. River has spent the last 7 years, since his “death” in the early hours of the 31st October 1993, living in Amy’s basement, hidden from her parents and from the glaring eyes of the world outside and he hasn’t eaten for 3 days. After ravenously taking less than half a dozen bites from a loaf of bread we watch Amy and River play out their final 1am conversation.
I sit here at my computer still trying to decide exactly what the author’s intentions were with this play. Is it an exploration on the effects of fame on the young? If so, why not have the characters talk about it for more than the occasional factoid? If not, and she has, in fact, written a relationship story between people thrown together in unusual circumstances, why choose a 30 year old River Phoenix who’s faked his own death and the British psychology student who has cared for and hidden him since meeting him aged 11? Is it a tragedy? But then, River’s real life was tragic enough so why not write a biography? The piece doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be and ends up having a reasonable stab at all three but leaves the story a little flat.
The performance of Amy was slow getting off the ground but was solid for the most part. That of Phoenix, however, while the accent work was good, rarely moved away from the caricature and almost left me wondering whether he was a figment of Amy’s imagination. This was, of course doused by the out-of-the blue ending note.
Technically, this show was very interesting. The simple set and subtle symbolism were hugely enjoyable and I admire the cast for sustaining and incorporating the elements of the space effectively. The effect of having three desk lamps, supported by barely-lit cans being the only constant light and also marking out the arc of the story was inspired, proving more effective than the usual budgetary reasons for making such a choice.
This piece has enormous potential and the subject matter is rich and interesting but it asks many more questions than it answers. With a more pronounced and decisive story arc this show could break some fascinating ground but it tries too hard to do too many things and as a result only ever partially succeeds in any of them. If Phoenix’s life and career strikes a chord with you, or you want to take a punt on something a bit different then this may well be the piece for you.