The quiet current underneath this amusing, startling, and imaginative journey of a father and daughter is a story of Jews in post WWII America. A story of finding and losing generations of family, of eccentricities shaped by trauma and resilience, of rebuilding and remembering, and of the kitsch and surreal set against horror and grace.
Playwright Lisa Kron’s one-woman show begins with Lisa narrating a series of slides in great detail—except these slides are simply rectangles of color—that are the pictorial archive of a video she is in the process of creating about her father Walter, a 75 year-old survivor of the Holocaust transplanted to white-bread midwestern Lansing, Michigan. Her father’s parents never left Auschwitz.
On Lisa’s matrilineal side she has generations of relatives living and recently deceased who provide a gallery of eccentrics, including a hoarding grandma who ended up with an entire floor of Avon products, out of pity for the Avon saleswomen.
Three basic storylines are woven through the evening: preparations for her brother’s wedding to his fiancée (found online) in a Canarsie Jewish center (décor from a 1974 James Bond movie, Kron declares); the family’s annual pilgrimage to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio (where her nearly-blind father insists on trying the latest roller-coaster rides); and a daughter and father journey to Germany and Poland to see Walter’s birthplace and the death-place of his parents in Poland.
Gorgeously written, and eminently actable, Kron’s script whips through details mundane and shattering, always with a salty survival-based Jewish humor, and the critical distance of her lesbian lens (especially droll in the wedding scenes). Providing ballast and contrast are her gentile Irish lover Peggy.
While set of course as a story about past events, Kron creates a blazing core of searching in this story. The questions are “How and why are my family this way? Who is my father? Do I belong?” which drive the play almost relentlessly.
The Kitchen production brings the play to scintillating, even incendiary life in Lena Kaminsky’s warm and probing performance, confidently directed by Zoë Golub-Sass.
Kaminsky, who shone in the Kitchen’s previous productions of Swimming in the Shallows and Birds of East Africa, makes a welcome return. She has a wide register as an actor, both vocally and physically. A natural storyteller, Kaminsky is able to maintain an aching vulnerability beneath a wry, wise-cracking exterior. She easily inhabits Kron’s ambivalent, joking and ultimately yearning persona. Kaminsky is unerringly precise in her imagining of the myriad details of the story (made all the more prominent by the device of the ‘empty’ slides), pulling us into a chaotic, uproarious and heartbreaking world. Among the compelling moments are a near break-down during the Auschwitz narration, a glorious roller-coaster ride, and a transcendent finale at the wedding.
Golub-Sass uses the space with authority and subtlety, while deftly pacing the show. All that is missing is a bit more use of silence and stillness, but that is a minor quibble.
Design is sharp. IC alum Megan Parker provides costume (casual) and set (abstract and specific, mirroring the 35mm slides in a perforated and backlit rear wall). Daisy Long lights it with grace and adroit attention to the play’s rhythms. Pornchanok Kanchanabanca provides a haunting sound design that locates, but never overwhelms, always placed in the halls of memory.
This is another remarkable triumph for the Kitchen. This fall has especially centered on the act of storytelling: its seduction, its difficulties and its necessity. Great conversations.
2.5 Minute Ride by Lisa Kron; Kitchen Theatre through Dec. 9.