There is always a fascination about the failure of a hero, a fascination possibly more intense when the failure concerns a hero who could never have made it. Most of us identify with the special seediness of unfulfilled glory. And there are simply geniuses who have no cause for worry. John Bishop's play "The Trip Back Down" … is about a stockcar racer approaching his last lap…. He is desperately gallant, an all-time loser who knows the value of losing.
At the end of the play he is able to retort to a detractor: "Let me tell you one thing about losing—you have to be in the race to do it." In that one line you just about have the interest and the value of Mr. Bishop's play…. [It] is an in-built cliché. It is the kind of remark that confirms and massages potential losers rather than challenges and disturbs potential winners. This is not necessarily bad. But it is simplistic.
It is not even certain that the concept of a stock-car racer as a hero is a very good one for the theater. Could not the movies do it better?… Perhaps it doesn't matter. I think it does. Drama should stay away from areas where it is locked out and the movies have all the keys….
[Mr. Bishop] does not really write like anyone else. He writes in the glib, empty vernacular of TV serials. The sort of language that echoes a language rather than transforming it….
The story line has an obviousness to it, yet Mr. Bishop is nobody's fool. He can write certain scenes … with a loving awareness blunted by the obviousness of the way people are expected to feel.
Clive Barnes, "A Bad-Trip," in The New York Times (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 5, 1977, p. C17.
"The Trip Back Down" … is a well-written and well-constructed play, serious in its intentions and yet often effectively comic in tone…. I hope that no readers will deduce from this rather grim-sounding preliminary ruffle of drums that I am recommending the play because it will prove, in some obscure, puritanico-educational fashion, "good" for them to see—or, for that matter, "good for Broadway," whatever that pious cant phrase may be thought to mean. John Bishop … is an ambitious man as well as a talented one, and his play has certain valuable speculations to offer about the nature of winners and losers in contemporary middle-class life…. I found it always interesting, if not exhilarating, to be in Mr. Bishop's presence….
Brendan Gill, "The Loser as Winner," in The New Yorker (© 1977 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), January 17, 1977, p. 47.
I, personally, have no direct knowledge either of the racingcar circuit or of blue-collar towns in Ohio, but [The Trip Back Down] convinced me that Mr. Bishop knows both kinds of life very well. Bobby Horvath, a tense, touchy, violent character, is both believable and sympathetic. I respect Mr. Bishop for avoiding the suicidal-car-crash ending I thought I could see coming a mile off (though his actual ending leaves too much unresolved). And Mr. Bishop is quite good at things like bristling confrontations, drunken confessions, funny sidekicks.
But there are plenty of bristling confrontations, drunken confessions, and funny sidekicks in other plays. The stockcar-racing life, as seen in The Trip Back Down, is not unlike other kinds of competitive, high-tension, you-can-be-astar ways of life that have been on view elsewhere, and ordinary, drab, American Mansfield, Ohio, is similar to ordinary drab American other places. There is not really much new about A Trip Back Down: it is another solid, decent, realistic-with-flashbacks American drama….
Julius Novick, "A Vroom of One's Own," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © by The Village Voice, Inc., 1977), January 24, 1977, p. 75.