Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Richard III
Well, if they turned out like this, underneath all the miles of sarcasm and disaffection. Somehow I suddenly feel it would make me a better person.
Lee Blessing's excellent dark comedy pairs an ex-stepdad with his ultra-dour ex-stepdaughter on what started out as a drive to rekindle their former friendship. But this funny play, which premiered in 2008 at the Humana Festival, is also tense in very unexpected ways. And tragic in a way that is, perhaps, inevitable.
Both characters are writers, and both have a lot to talk about in the rough plains and mountains of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Isaiah DiLorenzo plays the ex-stepdad, "Monkey Man," and Shannon Lampkin is the ex-stepdaughter, "Bitch" (that's how the teenager insists they be addressed in the play). But his broken-hearted persistence and her gradual opening-up make it a four-star show.
There is an invisible third character: the ex-wife and mother of the teenagerand it's probably just as well that she never appears on stage, since we could never reconcile the different views of her character outlined in the script. And on top of that, the she seems to have her own long list of invisible "third characters" in her own life, including two or three women "Monkey Man" has cheated on her with and a few other unseen characters she also can't seem to do without. And yet hers is a third role that's almost as compelling as the two on stage, without ever succumbing to being the odious "missing person" in a play involving divorce.
There's unusual tension in awkward motel room scenes, which is probably best left for the viewer to discover. It's certainly not something you run into every day in the theater, by any means; and the later revelations about the teenager's travails add another dimension entirely to those strange moments. So be ready for some fresh weird moments.
Mr. DiLorenzo has his hands full, breaking down the invisible wall in a father/daughter relationship, in a play that (coincidentally) starts out near Wall, South Dakota. Their whole drive is one of those wilderness journeys that makes the characters paramount in our mindsin spite of the various local attractions along the way, like Wall Drug or Old Faithful (where Mr. DiLorenzo is pretty delightful, cheering on the natural geyser).
Director Tom Kopp leads his two actors into great performances, through dialog that's a modern riot. But eventually we find out why the ex-stepdaughter is enduring this long ride out into nowhere in the first place. And that, in turn, leads to a huge, epic theme that is very rarely discussed outside (say) Mother Courage and Her Children, or the Sophia Loren movie Two Women. But the comedy comes back to life soon after that, albeit with a kinder, gentler tone.
Then, finally there's a wonderful, mystical moment at the end: one of them is left by the side of the road, quietly saying "thank you." And if you've ever gone on a long car ride, and known how everything seems to depend on one solitary relationship all the way through the wasteland, you'll have a pretty good idea how powerful a play like this can be.
The mood among the audience members afterward seemed distinctly more tender, as a result of the whole experience.
Great Falls wraps up the group's 105th season, and runs through April 17, 2016, at the Union Avenue Christian Church, a block north of Delmar Blvd. For more information visit www.westendplayers.org.
Cast of Characters
Original Song "Can't Back Up" composed by Susan Kopp and performed by Bell Weather (Susan Kopp, Kate Lovelady and Seth Weissman).