2.5 Minute Ride
nytheatre.com review by Allison Taylor
January 19, 2008
Nicole Golden's smile is a playful one. At the beginning of a joke, it forms as a subtle smirk in the corners of her mouth; then at the punch-line it opens into a generously jubilant beam. As she merrily clicks through slides on a projection screen—which are actually blank squares of colored light, but are easily imagined—her smile eggs on the audience's laughter throughout 2.5 Minute Ride. And it's a good thing, too, because this one-woman show, written and originally performed by monologist Lisa Kron, is a comical but intense look at the life of Kron's complex father, a German Jew who survived the Holocaust, but whose parents died at Auschwitz.
To appreciate the ease with which Golden welcomes you into her story, you should know that Lisa Kron is not your typical playwright. Part comedienne and part performance artist, Kron writes and performs autobiographical, monologue-based work similar to the style of Spalding Gray. But just as last year's compilation, Stories Left to Tell, meant to expand Gray's reputation from monologist to writer, director Matt M. Morrow ambitiously seeks to reveal Kron as a full-fledged playwright in a production of 2.5 Minute Ride in which Golden plays "Lisa."
The challenge is apparent even in a short description. 2.5 Minute Ride is a nonlinear patchwork of anecdotes about Kron's family, including memories of her Midwestern mother; an annual trip with her embarrassing relatives to the Cedar Point amusement park; and her brother's Orthodox wedding. But Kron connects every story to her father and to her experience making a video about his life. Besides documenting his enjoyment of roller coaster rides (despite being a blind diabetic with a heart condition), she takes her father on a trip to Europe, primarily to see the place where her grandparents were slaughtered.
That the play—and Morrow certainly proves that it is a play—is both genuinely poignant and simultaneously funny is a testament to Kron's writing. There's plenty of stand-up-style observational humor (she notices that everything in Poland seems to be spelled CZYCNZSY), and plenty of jokes at the expense of her extended family (for example, her overweight aunt wants something light to eat, then cuts herself a piece of pie). Golden ably embodies Lisa's gently sardonic tone, but as evidence of her versatility, she also executes the more serious moments with significant depth. Of particular note is when she becomes Lisa's father, her voice taking on a grand German accent and her body moving slowly and stiffly. As Lisa's father recollects interrogating a Gestapo driver, Golden taps into the distanced and straightforward tone of those who have been through great tragedy, a deep contrast to Lisa's expressive personality. Morrow does well to bring out these subtle differences among the characters, and although the transitions between the various anecdotes could be a little smoother, the play proceeds tightly, never dragging—a difficult feat for a one-person show. If anything, Golden is such a magnetic performer that she might benefit from breaking out of the rhythmic, steady pace. Golden's few moments of seeming improvisation, or when she stops completely and merely puts a contemplative finger to her lip as she searches for the right words, make her anecdotes more intimate and our role as listener more important.
One of those moments comes after she describes her intense reaction to entering the Auschwitz crematorium. In the midst of reenacting her physical repulsion, Golden suddenly stops and assesses the audience. She realizes that we have all seen these images before. "Is there anyone here who hasn't seen Schindler's List?" she asks. (No one raised their hand.) She seems to hate that she's subjecting us to this. Unable to remember why she was telling us about this trip at all, Golden treads the ground clumsily to nowhere in particular, and her arms move about awkwardly, as if she were trying to get rid of an unshakeable pain. Because we cannot (or do not) comfort her, Golden turns upstage to collect herself. And it's marvelous that there's no telling what Lisa will say next, and no explaining why she abruptly shifts her mood.
But what Lisa-the-character does not realize—although dramatically speaking, Lisa-the-playwright must—is witnessing her personal journey makes the Holocaust tragically tangible. Being forced to picture what Lisa saw makes us, the audience, more actively involved than just looking at photos on a screen. As Lisa points to each invisible slide with a laser, we are given the opportunity to participate, to envision the exaggerations that Golden envisions when her lip curls into a smirk. The freedom of our imagination makes her family that much more joyful and ludicrous, and Auschwitz that much more terrifying and surreal.