Kansas City Or Along The Way
nytheatre.com review by Emily Otto
August 17, 2008
While paging through the FringeNYC program guide, observing the sheer volume of flashy titles and pop-culture-themed shows, each competing for the fickle attention of the potential audience, I'm struck by the lack of glitter and fairy dust surrounding the description of Kansas City or Along the Way. Everything about this production, including its PR, is surprisingly subtle. But the lucky audience members who catch one of the remaining performances will have the privilege of enjoying a finely wrought piece of theatre that will remain with them long after the lights come up.
Through a series of interwoven monologues, we meet the play's two characters, Louise (Rebecca Benhayon) and Joseph (Adam Groves), each living in southern Ohio during the Great Depression. Louise's story begins in 1932, after her fiancé has abandoned her. Faced with a future completely unlike her imagined life, she struggles to find meaning and direction. Joseph tells his story in 1939 after the death of his wife. While fighting to gain custody of his children, he must come to terms with the pain of his loneliness and the memories that haunt him. The monologues lead up to a pivotal scene in which the two characters meet and their stories intertwine.
The Depression Era setting is rendered beautifully in the play's use of music, most notably in three folk songs written by Groves and playwright Robert Attenweiler. Clearly inspired by the work of Woody Guthrie and sung and played by Groves, the songs transport us to another time and place with a power that goes beyond words.
Oh, but the words. . .I couldn't overstate the magic of words in this play. Attenweiler's golden ear for dialogue and poetic imagination conspire to produce lines that are at once metaphorically rich and completely speakable. He captures a specific time and place without ever allowing the characters to become caricatures, even in their numerous flights of fancy. Joe Stipek's intelligent direction shows his understanding of "less is more" in a show with such rich dialogue. Particularly in the monologues, where it would be easy for the actors to be static, his staging offers an effective blend of energy and stillness.
Both Benhayon and Groves turn in nuanced performances here. Groves, in particular, is captivating to watch in the complex role of Joseph. He captures perfectly the spirit of a man who persists in a life that seems destined to break him. That's actually what makes both the script and performances so moving; both Louise and Joseph insist on finding hope and beauty in a world that offers them little of either.
This show is a remount of an 2006 workshop production, and FringeNYC is all the better for it. I feel lucky to have had the chance to see it. Amidst the screaming neon of so many shows, this piece is a gorgeous little gem.