Thursday, November 10, 2016

Review: Trouble on the Road

By Michael Block

There are certain mediums for certain stories. Be it novel, play, or screen, each format provides something unique to its storytelling. In the world of stage and screen, there are limitations to both but extraordinary possibilities in each. You can certainly "do more" on film, especially when a piece is multi-locational. Unless you infuse theatricality into the storytelling, if you have a journey story, it's better off on film. Such is the case in Neil Haven's Come Back. The Theatre 68 production is a dark comedy about grief, loss, and acceptance that is meant to be a movie, as this production has a great disconnect.
Playing the Arthur Seelen Theatre at the Drama Book Shop, Come Back follows Sky as she goes on a wild goose chase across America to find the final destination for the ashes of her recently deceased friend after he leaves her mission in his will. With a car filled with an urn, parrot, and her friend's desperate dad, Sky comes to discover the tribulations of losing a dear friend. Playing into the themes of grief, Neil Haven has written a dark comedy with great potential. If it wants to be a movie. There is a lot of fun to be had but Come Back is meant for the screen. Come Back can certainly be a play but it requires stronger direction. But more on that later. Haven’s plot is one of convenience. The exposition he offers needs further exploration and some broader stakes. As it stands now, everything seems too easy for Sky. But then the rules of the game Haven has Sky play are a bit whacky. Regardless of the rules of the world, Haven has some character woes. On the whole, it was very difficult to find empathy for these characters. The clarity of Sky's pain is a large factor of the success of this piece. To go along with Sky on her journey, you must empathize with her. But her pain is largely internalized. What is relayed feels more like this trip Aaron has forced her on is a burden. That tone is painted at the start. Adjusting her emotions during the reveal of her mission will set the proper tone for the story that comes. We learn of the quirky nature of Aaron yet that's not entirely how he was presented. We see him as a dark and twisted brooding person who's fun comes at others' expense. With a bit of disconnect between how we hear and how we see Aaron, a stronger choice may be to not even see him at all. There is power in crafting your own persona for the unseen character.
Sky's journey is a difficult one to take and Morgan Hammel did all she could to make it worth while. Hammel's approach was one filled with sadness. Rarely did we see joy and excitement. Sure, the situation is dreary but with the quirkiness  surrounding, she could have played into the humor of the joke more. Michael DeBartolo's Aaron was dark, though he looked for the light in his character's situation. When it comes to unlikeable characters, daddy Val takes the cake. Whether it was the text or how Aaron Braunstein gave Val a selfish one-track mind. In this sense, Val was more than the antagonist of the play. He was a downright villain. The variety from Kaitlyn Biancaniello and Megan Magee as the various vendors was effortlessly hilarious. It brought out the quirkiness of Haven's text and his best writing. Joe Blute played double duty as Sky’s straight-laced pal Mel as well as hillbilly vendor Nevada Ned. Blute has range in characterization but lacked control as a performer. Kathryn Loggins found fun in the tough-as-nails lawyer Marty.
There’s no one way to tackle a script. That’s the beauty of theater. It’s all in the interpretation. But not every road is a successful one. Director Mariel Matero had much difficulty in the driver’s seat. As an overall product, the direction was weak. Matero approached the play from a place of realism, mostly. There were moments that strayed from realism and that is when Come Back took off. She needed to keep the piece moving with a theatrical undercurrent. There should never be a blackout. The world greatly desired moving around Sky. Just because the lights go down and the other actors appear in black to perform a scene shift doesn’t mean we don’t know they’re there. It’s just the opposite. Had Matero embraced the theatricality, Come Back would have resonated differently. The production elements, as a whole, felt thrown together and shoddy. When “practical” sound is important to the storytelling, there’s no excuse for an echo to exist.
Come Back had some significant woes that hindered the production from becoming something magical. But it can be. Discovering where it wants to live and what it wants to be is crucial.