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The Long Christmas Ride Home

a Musical
CATEGORY :
by Paula Vogel

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 1288

SHOWING : November 10, 2005 - December 17, 2005

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

A co-production with Synchronicity Performance Group, visions of Christmas past haunt a family as they recall the events behind second-hand gifts and under-cooked turkey, and reveal why all moments are not captured in the family album.


CAST & CREW LIST
Lighting design Jessica Coale
Man Jeff Feldman
Stephen Adam Fristoe
Claire Kelly Marckioli
Rebecca Stacy Melich
Minister/et all Theroun Patterson
Woman Kathleen Wattis
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REVIEWS

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What You Throw Away
by Dedalus
Friday, November 18, 2005
5.0
There is a recurring line in Paula Vogel’s Family Saga “The Long Christmas Ride Home,” currently on view as an almost-perfect co-production of Synchronicity Performance Group and Actor’s Express. “It’s amazing what people throw away.” It is first used comically to describe the stuff that Grandmother recycles from Apartment Trash Heap into dreaded Christmas gifts. It is then used metaphorically, as we see the children of the family, now adults, being “thrown away” by their current lovers. And it is an over-riding sub-text, as the Father figuratively “throws away” his love for his wife and children, only to be confronted in a spirit-changing climax by its literal precipice-hanging result.

And, ultimately, it is an excellent description of the play’s main theme, the pressures and dysfunctions that lead at least one character to throw away life itself.

This is not your standard Dickens/Capra/Joy-to-the-World Christmas Play. This is a dark and moving look into the hell of an imploding family (that includes strong language, violence, and puppet sex, both gay and straight), a serious examination on the long-term effects of Bad Family Values, but an ultimately uplifting and inspiring celebration of life and love and what we actually choose not to “throw away.”

One of the best conceits of the play is its style. It is written and directed using an Americanized version of Japanese Bunraku puppetry – The children are played by puppets (sometimes) voiced by live actors and manipulated by those actors side-by-side with fully blacked-out puppeteers (at other times, the actors playing the parents also provide narration and the voices of their children). As adults, the child-actors discard their younger “puppet-selves” and become fully animate, if not fully emotional humans (all are emotionally stunted in some way by their status as cast-offs). And, in a genius stroke of reversal, the play returns to that childhood car trip, with the puppeteers now manipulating the actors playing the parents. The set is very simple, very formal, with its wood-frame temple imagery (almost “Shinto Tudor”). And the transitions are accompanied by traditional Japanese musical tropes, and contemporary Japanese rock.

All of this would have come across as pretentious cultural posturing if hadn’t been performed with such honesty and passion by its principals (Jeff Feldman and Kathleen Wattis as the mother and father, Adam Fristoe, Stacy Melich, and Kelly Markioli as the children, and Theroun Patterson as everybody else; special commendations also need to go to the “Ninja” puppeteers, Kristin Wright, Kimberly Pruitt, and Kelly Young). Mr. Feldman and Ms. Wattis were especially successful in keeping their narration and voice characterizations clean and accurate, so we had no problem knowing which child was talking and what their attitudes were towards the narration they were giving. They also succeeded in making these cold and cruel parents almost likeable in their humanness – we hate their actions, but understand and feel compassion for their losses and humiliations.

As usual, Rachel May’s direction is pitch-perfect. Her sense of concept and style is always interesting, but, more important, she is able to bring her cast to a level where every moment is accurate, every moment is honest, every moment sings.

As a point of "Full Disclosure" here, I’ve worked with Rachel and have a lot of respect for her talent, so I may be a tad prejudiced. I am also a Nipponophile (is that a word?), and enjoy most things that hint at Japanese Culture. I’m also a sucker for stories of Family Dysfunction, especially when the “villains” are fully-dimensional people.

That being said, please don’t add that usual grain of salt to my opinion that “The Long Christmas Ride Home” is one of the best productions I’ve seen (or am likely to see) this year. Don’t “throw away” your chance to see this gem!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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This review I understood & I agree wholeheartedly by line!
Because of your review I saw this production tonight. I was very impressed. It was good theatre with solid acting, writing, and direction. The staging struck a perfect balance between art and function. Very tasteful and creative. I didn't simply see a great performance. I had a great experience! Very highly recommended!


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