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Review: 'The Trip Back Down' out for a new spin at Whitefire Theatre

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A full-throttle Whitefire Theatre revival revs “The Trip Back Down” up for a new spin, but unfortunately doesn’t restore John Bishop’s dated 1975 NASCAR-themed drama to street-legal status.

Nick Stabile is stock car driver Bobby Horvath, whose career has hit the skids after a stellar debut on the racing circuit, Though he had dreamed of escaping his blue-collar origins, he’s returned to his Mansfield, Ohio, hometown, disillusioned and running on fumes.

Stabile’s appropriately brooding, hunky presence exudes weariness with the life of fast cars and faster women that unfolds in flashbacks and video projections, but the repetitive script limits his portrayal to a single note. Not to worry if you happen to doze or get distracted by shiny objects when Bobby signals his intention to quit racing — he’ll loop back to it more times than his laps around Talladega Superspeedway.

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With more than 20 other characters, the play badly needs a trim, even though most performances fire on all cylinders. Director Terri Hanauer judiciously keeps the focus on the nuances that are playwright Bishop’s strong suit (he hailed from Mansfield, and there’s a sharply-observed authenticity to his factory town inhabitants). Standouts in this regard include Kevin Brief and Meredith Thomas as Bobby’s beer-guzzling brother and neglected sister-in-law. Robb Derringer ignites the stage as Super Joe, the high-octane racer determined to haul Bobby from his mopey pit stop. 

Despite any resonance these characters might evoke, however, their struggles in the recessionary 1970s lose dramatic ground to the economic plight facing so many blue-collar workers nowadays whose aspirations of climbing above factory jobs have shifted to holding on to the ones they have.

 “The Trip Back Down,” Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Ends March 29. $25. (323) 960-7712 or www.plays411.com/trip. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

[For the Record, 4:55 p.m. PST March 4: An earlier version of this post referred to Talladega Superspeedway as Talladega Speedway.]

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