Sixty Miles to Silver Lake
nytheatre.com review by Allison Taylor
January 21, 2009
I don't have fond memories of my parents' divorce—and chances are, if your parents got divorced when you were a kid, you probably don't either. It's out of my jurisdiction to assume whether Dan LeFranc, the author of Sixty Miles to Silver Lake, dug up his own buried recollections to assemble this collage of car rides, in which a newly divorced father drives his son every weekend to his bachelor pad. This kind of material is usually markedly autobiographical—and yet, what makes Sixty Miles to Silver Lake such a difficult and dissatisfying play is its reluctance to be personal.
Presenting various snapshot conversations over seven years between Ky and his son Denny, Sixty Miles to Silver Lake takes place almost entirely in a car. As tightly designed by Dane Laffrey, this is the kind of claustrophobic and inescapable space that, unlike a dining room table, forces you to converse with your parent. Or in the case of Denny, as played by Dane DeHaan, forces you to trace stick figures and names onto the window as your father prattles on. Shifting his gangly limbs impatiently and softly grunting at his father's queries, DeHaan is perpetually petulant, whether ten or seventeen (in fact, it's hard to tell which).
But then I don't really blame him for grunting. His father, as played by Joseph Adams, can only be described as a schmuck, the kind of dad who pushes a little too hard to be his mysterious version of "cool." He consistently suggests Denny turn the baseball game on the radio, even though his son hates baseball and, decked out in cleats, loves soccer. With a macho swagger he gives instructions on how to pleasure a woman, complete with hand gestures. Indeed, much of Ky's mindset—which Adams executes with a creepy glee—surrounds sex, especially concerning his ex. He floats into the air every 20 minutes or so, "Is your mother seeing anyone?" and "Has your mother found a job yet?"
These are not questions of subtext, so it comes as no surprise when he follows up with rants on her spending, her inabilities, and her infidelity. Nor do Denny's pouting, repeated exclamations of "I so wish you weren't my dad!" offer much subtext. Yes, one could interpret these as cries for help, as their dysfunctional way of getting closer to each other. But Adams and DeHaan indicate little internal bubbling and brewing. Lacking any sense of self-censorship, these characters, as interpreted by the two actors, say exactly what they mean. Anne Kauffman has seemingly directed them to emphasize the characters' brutality and to hide any trace of their vulnerability. Far more dramatically interesting than watching characters trash talk and browbeat, is watching them try not to trash talk and browbeat—then succumbing to it after much self-inflicted tension. (George and Martha, anyone?)
And this is where Sixty Miles to Silver Lake could use a more personal touch. LeFranc's simple concept—a father and son have a dysfunctional relationship—is just too simple. Despite all the pair's sound and fury, the play does not come close to tapping into visceral pain, the kind so evident in other divorce centric stories (the Noah Baumbach film The Squid and the Whale comes to mind).
As a replacement for that kind of visceral pain, LeFranc and Kauffman devise forced tonal shifts, in which the lights swing to dark tones, a large screen behind the car projects scratchy images of a road, and Denny inexplicably exclaims that he's scared of where they're going. Besides these shifts, we don't get much distinction between the seven years. When the play jumps in time, the lights and sound change so subtly—and the actors' movements and behavior change so little—that one wonders whether the scene has changed at all. All of this seems to be to emphasize that it's the same car ride, over and over again. But with the father and son's dialogue repeating the same bits, emphasizing the repetitions is like putting a hat on a hat. The car ride turns out to be a long, slow, unchanging blur.