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Theater Review: “2.5 Minute Ride” and “Well”

Shana Wride as Lisa in 2.5 Minute Ride by Lisa Kron.
Photo credit:
Diversionary Theatre

Lisa Kron, winner of five Tonys for her 2015 musical “Fun Home,” is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after playwrights around.

Diversionary Theatre, enjoying a renaissance under the leadership of Executive Artistic Director Matt M. Morrow (who took the reins in late 2014 and is producing consistently interesting fare), offers a first: a smashing pair of short Kron memoir plays in rotating repertory through March 19. They are united by a family theme: “2.5 Minute Ride” is primarily about Kron’s relationship with her father, while “Well” is about wellness and her mother. “2.5 Minute Ride” premiered at La Jolla Playhouse in 1996.

*****

2.5 Minute Ride

Even the chair is gray for the local revival of Lisa Kron’s solo piece about her relationship with her father. But that doesn’t mean it’s lugubrious and weighty. Humor figures heavily into everything Kron writes, and though part of this piece is about her trip to Auschwitz with her dad, even that is tinged with humor.

And there’s definitely nothing gray about Shana Wride’s portrayal of Kron. Opening with an unscripted quip to a latecomer whose arrival was announced by a squeaky door (“Have a seat. Need to get some WD-40 in here.”), she draws you in as she describes a series of blank slides of family scenes and events, using a laser pointer for special (invisible) elements not to be missed.

“2.5 Minute Ride” is both a wonderfully funny and an extremely moving memoir, presented in stream-of-consciousness jumps between time periods and events. Three main events are described. Besides the trip to Auschwitz, she talks about her brother’s wedding to a girl he met online. And the extended family’s trip (it took three cars) to the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, a sort of family tradition – inspires some hilarious comments.

There are wild emotional leaps between her sobering trip to Auschwitz with her Holocaust escapee father – who was sent at 15 to foster parents in New Haven before his parents were shipped to the death camp – and her mother’s comment about the upcoming wedding: “I’m just going to go to that wedding and pretend I’m watching a National Geographic special on TV.”

(Kron adds as postscript: “When I came out as a lesbian I’m sure one of her first thoughts was, “Oh, thank God I won’t have to go to her wedding.”)

Descriptions of the amusing if harrowing driving of “Dutch cousin” Elizabeth to Auschwitz (not to mention the Polish pizza they had along the way) almost echo Kron’s comments about the heart-stopping rides on the Kron family’s annual outing to Cedar Point. (The play’s title comes from the Mean Streak ride there.)

But there’s nothing funny about what they saw and discussed at Auschwitz, and here is where Lisa connects with her dad like she never had before. 

Wride is brilliant as Kron. She draws you in with every move, every catch in the voice and halt in the search for words. 

“2.5 Minute Ride” is a tour de force performance of a tour de force solo piece. It is not to be missed.

Well

Don’t believe Lisa Kron (Samantha Ginn) when she says “This play isn’t about my mother and me.” Her mother Ann (Annie Hinton) sits asleep in a reclining chair on the stage in plain sight, and will awaken to comment now and then, even interact with the actors to the point.....

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In “Well,” Kron does a bit of dramatized memoir. She tells us it’s a “theatrical exploration of issues which are universal and for which we will occasionally be using my mother as an example,” and we are her audience.

What she’s talking about is sickness – personal and societal. Ann has been sick most of her life – with maladies she lumps under the general rubric “allergies” – and we are led to believe that the rest of the family suffers as well.

We’ll meet the other actors in the hospital allergy unit, where Lisa goes at 19 to be tested and where each of them will play one of their several roles. There are four:  Adam Cuppy, amusing as an officious head nurse; Cashae Monya and Tiffany Tang, as other allergy sufferers; Durwood Murray as another nurse.

The actors will meet Ann as the play progresses, because she will be there in that chair, offering drinks, commenting on the script and attracting off-topic conversation along the way. This will drive Lisa crazy – initially when she corrects Lisa’s memory, but most especially as the actors are drawn more and more to Ann’s friendly style. 

Lisa notes that for all Ann’s sickness (she does walk very slowly, with a cane), she once managed to heal their Lansing neighborhood, plagued by racial segregation. “The two main things we believe in as a family are allergies and racial integration,” she says.

She sent Lisa and her brother to primarily black schools, then got to work to change the ‘hood. She didn’t try to get legislation passed; she used plain old social interaction: “Social activities will fuel the political work,” she says, to which end she (and amenable neighbors) organized Christmas caroling, baseball games and Fourth of July parades.

But in this situation, what Ann does is tell stories about Lisa’s past, both embarrassing and annoying her.

The play gets further and further off the track as other characters emerge. Monya’s best character is a hoot of a 9-year-old Mean Girl named Lori Jones from Lisa’s childhood, who charges in a takes over now and again.

Tang is terrific as a joyless patient named Joy, Lisa’s roommate in the allergy unit, and Dottie, another patient who seems a bit vague. 

The actors bond with Ann, dropping their stage names and calling each other by their real names.

After a while, the action grinds to a halt as the actors lose the thread, preferring to spend time with Ann. Lisa despairs, and still doesn’t understand how Ann can be so sick and so well at the same time.

The point of this difficult-to-describe piece may be that we learn to live with life as it comes, controlling what we can and living with the rest.

These two Kron plays are must-sees. 

The details

“2.5 Minute Ride” and “Well” play in rotating repertory through March 19, 2017 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights.

Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.; Feb. 27 and March 6 at 7 p.m.

Tickets: (619) 220-0097 or diversionary.org