Review: FRIGID NY Festival 2022: Together We Can Live with the Sadness: Clegg’s "The Lonely Road" Leaves You Lonely, But I Think That’s the Point

The Lonely Road

Stories and photography by Will Clegg

Directed by David Crabb

Presented at The Kraine Theater

85 E 4th St., Manhattan, NYC

February 18-March 6, 2022

Photo by Will Clegg
The tradition of the great American road trip is just one that does not appeal to me. I hate cars, driving, and long stretches of boring road where I can’t read a book or watch a movie since all I can think about is not puking out the window due to motion sickness brought about only by car travel. Oh, and the safety statistics of car travel do not help either. But I get it. It’s an appealing, romantic idea. And any time one of my Spanish partner’s friends visits from across the pond, they want their own American road trip. I have tentatively agreed to one in May—god help me. I also have known many people in my life who want to recreate not only Kerouac’s romance of the road but also his personality and behavior. I will never get the attraction to Kerouac or his road.

The Lonely Road leans into this tradition of the road-romance as a response to an emotional juggernaut as Will Clegg, just off a breakup with his college girlfriend and with few to no job prospects post-9/11, but with a passion for photography inspired by Gary Winogrand’s (1928-84) well-known images of the American West, heads out on the open road to photograph White Sands, NM—the site of Winogrand’s most famous image. The show does not back down from placing itself within the road-trip tradition. Even before the performance begins, as audience members are shuffling in, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” plays. Subtle, yes, I know.

Gary Winogrand’s “White Sands National Monument,” 1964, The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
Everyone has a way into a book, film, or performance. The road trip angle wasn’t for me, but when our hero gets to New Orleans, my ears perked up. Here was something interesting, and Clegg’s time spent with a friend there photographing the city and people was the first instance I thought this guy might make an emotional breakthrough. It isn’t the White Sands leg of the trip that’s the most interesting. And the trip seemed far from lonely. Neither is it the long stretches of time alone with himself that Clegg focuses on that brought me in. It was these moments of heightened social interaction on his stops in New Orleans and Texas and Los Angeles and San Francisco. What I like about the show, whether this was intentional or not, was that after these two years of isolation and loneliness, we need to be together and share in each other’s brokenness. In this way, Clegg turns the American road trip narrative on its head.

The show features Clegg standing alone, camera at his side, on stage with a large screen behind him that features his images taken on the trip as he narrates his story that takes him from experiencing 9/11 while in college in Manhattan, cheating on his girlfriend with a woman in Italy during study abroad (I am hoping both women gave permission for these stories and images to be shared), the deaths of his two grandfathers, deciding to take to the road to follow in his photographer hero’s steps, experiencing the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, getting drunk with George W. Bush donors in Texas, and feeling out of place at a B-list Hollywood party.
Will Clegg. Photo by Justin Rivenbark
I kept asking myself what Clegg was escaping by going on this road trip. In my little notebook, I made a list of events and emotions he was experiencing while he performed. But I couldn’t work it out until I realized I was looking at this the wrong way. In “Born to Run,” there is a line that goes “The Highway’s jammed with broken heroes / On a last chance power drive / Everybody’s out on the run tonight / But there’s no place left to hide / Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness.” While the hyper-emotional attachment to his college girlfriend just didn’t draw me in, Clegg’s sort of every-person search to fix his brokenness and loneliness with travel and connecting to others and himself was the way in for me.

How and why Clegg can go on this road trip, see the amazing cities and landscapes of North America, meet incredibly interesting people, and still want to come back to NYC and chase his girlfriend, I’ll never get. I have already said that that part of the narrative was not my way in. My way in was the growth that getting out of your current rut through travel provides and then coming back and being able to see your situation with new eyes. It takes Clegg a little while for Clegg’s new eyes to focus, but this performance is proof that they finally did years later. He certainly did not inspire me to get behind the wheel of a car anytime soon (I’ll take the train, thank you), but he does make a case for just getting the hell out and remembering just how big the world is and how transformational unfamiliar places and the people who live in them can be. Sometimes you just must let go. “Tramps” like Clegg and me were certainly born to run.

-Joseph L. V. Donica

All shows are available in-person or via livestreaming.


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