The truth may set you free, but not in Roadside, Maryland. Having its world premiere at the New York International Fringe Festival, Forrest Simmons's play is an insightful exploration of a truth so crippling to two characters' relationship that it transforms denial and sidestepping into art forms. George and Austin meet in a diner where the latter works as a waitress. Under false pretenses, Austin ends up taking George back to her apartment. Several cellphone calls from George's mother suggest that he has come looking for Austin for a reason. This plot point makes itself evident in the subtext fairly early in the show, though it's never plainly stated. The real strength of the play is watching two wonderful actors talk around it.
Director David Thigpen has whittled Simmons's script down to its barest essentials. Only a few bits of set dressing successfully signal each scene change. Despite the skillful staging, this is not a "high-concept" piece, and Thigpen wisely relies on the cast to communicate the text's subtleties.
George is an overgrown momma's boy—emotional and prone to tantrums when he doesn't get his way. He carries around a stuffed monkey that he hugs when anxious. He treads the razor-thin line between clownish and sympathetic; thankfully, Paul Whitty makes him a real person, pathetically funny and desperately lonely.
Austin, played by Dana Berger, wistfully conjures up a failed adolescence. She lives in a trailer paid for by her social worker and listens to a busted radio every night. Austin is a prisoner in her own town, and the experience has made her bitter, suspicious, and ballsy. She gives the character a wonderful potential energy—every action and reaction is different from the last.
Roadside, Maryland isn't a play about action—it is about the consequences of inaction. Both characters are trapped by their inability to see the truth about themselves. This self-denial allows them to connect on a genuine level, and the exemplary production suggests that change and redemption are possible, even in a small town such as this.