A Short Trip
nytheatre.com review by Kat Chamberlain
August 18, 2012
Sometimes a show plays its heart out, giving off such good vibes that the audience practically cheers it on. A Short Trip is that likable show that has great things going for it – an empathy for human frailty in great strife as well as in small domestic struggles, and a light touch that brings big issues down to earth. So much so that it's not too hard to overlook its somewhat dawdling pacing and stilted plot. Shows are like people in that way; you just don't feel like complaining about certain people.
The story involves two characters we would recognize anywhere: a couple who has spent fifty years together is now facing the last stage of their life – and the needs and problems they may have buried for too long. Rosemary has talked about traveling and seeing places forever, but Henry can always come up with reasons to keep her at home and by his side. There is first children to raise, and then his poor heart, not to mention all the terrible things one may encounter when venturing too far out. He does not like things that are “unnatural” - from the areogarden their son Peter gave them as a gift to some wild trips that will undoubtedly disrupt their orderly life.
But this time Rosemary is determined. Their daughter Cecilia invites her on a two-week trip to Italy, and she has more than the usual reasons for wanting to go. She patiently shoots down every one of Henry's objections, though it's far from an easy thing to do. Henry's own feelings are just as real, just as compelling, if not just as sympathetic on the surface. We also meet the young Rosemary and Henry at their sweet first encounter, she an aspiring nun and he ready to be shipped out to Korea. Their bond is strong enough to survive the war, but can it survive their fundamentally different outlook on faith and love – with a marriage not just in name but in truth?
The performances are endearing if not always even. Asta Hansen's present-day Rosemary is a woman with gentle strength that runs deep and comes natural. Josh Gulotta's young Henry is dynamic and vital to the narrative's overall energy. There are tender as well as fierce moments to make us truly care, but I wish playwright Jason Atkinson had gone deeper – into how a loving Harry turns harsh and controlling, and Rosemary's unyielding religiosity softens to almost gentle compassion. The flashbacks juxtaposing their present selves are jarring without sufficient clues to the near personality reversal. There is also slight homiletic overfamiliarity that dogs the play – the kitchen conversations that seem more protracted than real, and the story more simplistic than poignant.
A Short Trip is nevertheless an inviting exploration of a relationship in intimate, clear-eyed detail. When the old Henry hesitantly – and hopefully - suggests to Rosemary: “Why don't you sleep with me tonight?” you are ready to forgive him for anything. Rosemary certainly does.