Playwright Lisa Kron’s 2.5 Minute Ride isn’t easy to describe. Jane Unger, who directed the production on the boards at Profile Theatre, doesn’t even try in her “From the Director” notes. She is aiming for the spirit of discovery for audiences, and I respect that. Still, there are a couple of things we should get out of the way about this play and this production:
First, it’s very funny. For this season-opening one-woman show, Profile cast New York actor Allison Mickelson in the role of Lisa, and she is clearly adept at delivering lines with sarcastic humor. Mickelson, who also starred last fall in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home for Portland Center Stage, makes the perfect Lisa, playing her just uptight enough, self-deprecating, and hiding generations of emotions under layers of biting comedy.
Second, this is a play about family vacations with her aging father. That sounds simple, right? But the two vacations Lisa describes over the course of this 75-minute play are to two difficult places to take an aging father: a roller-coaster theme park and Auschwitz, the concentration camp where her father’s parents both lost their lives. This point is introduced early in the play, so I hope learning it now won’t detract from your sense of discovery while hearing Lisa’s journey unfold.
Third, it’s a one-woman show, on an intentionally bare stage with minimal props and no costume changes or intermissions. Peter Ksander’s scenic design is powerful in its simplicity: It doesn’t detract from the performance or the words, which are where you should stay focused. Miranda K. Hardy’s lighting, along with Mickelson’s movements and shifts in tone, indicate changes in scene and time. It wears its complexity behind a façade of exposed beams, bare floorboards, and focused lighting.
Watching the journey unfold, after all, is the point in theater, and especially here. The setup is simple: Lisa is telling the audience about her father, and the video she is making about his life. She starts off with slides—in this production, they are blank colored slides, which is a beautiful way to let Mickelson do the work of describing Lisa’s father to us (although the nervous laughter from some audience members on opening night made the blank slides a bit of a distraction).
Under Unger’s direction and Mickelson’s fine performance, 2.5 Minute Ride doesn’t answer with clarity questions audience members might have – about Lisa, her father, or the Holocaust. But who among us really is equipped to answer such questions: Will Lisa be able to help her father through this trip? Will he be okay? What about all the other survivors? Can their families ever truly know them? Last week, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, writer Matt Rossi put some of this into a context in a Twitter thread about his own grandfather, “by and large, a strange man who treated his children and wife poorly.”
“See,” Rossi continues, “my grandfather was one of the first Americans to see a concentration camp. As a doctor, he was one of the first ones to treat the survivors. And it broke him. … He didn’t come home and put it aside, because he couldn’t. I remember being a child sitting in the basement with him while he shook and wept and told me these things that I was far too young to understand. Because somebody had to know, and his own son hated him.”
But Rossi’s approach is not the same as Kron’s. Kron uses humor. Her character Lisa speaks excitedly and enthusiastically about planning a trip to Auschwitz. Even some of the darkest moments about their visit have some element of humor: “We cannot pay an admission fee for Auschwitz,” she deadpans. She fluctuates between humor and pain constantly – and Mickelson deftly navigates those emotions, often plumbing both in a single scene or moment. By the time they leave Auschwitz and, in another time and place, leave the amusement park, you know Lisa well. You understand her father as much as she does and feel her longing to understand him better.
That’s why she takes him to these places she can hardly bear – the site of his parents’ genocide; onto roller coasters that could kill him, given his age and heart condition – to get to know him better, to mine his emotional past, to hopefully bring herself closer to this man she loves and doesn’t – cannot – relate to. Really, then, the discovery is not what matters in the end. Not for Lisa, not for you as a member of the audience. It’s the journey there. And Profile’s 2.5 Minute Ride is a journey worth taking.
Profile Theatre’s 2.5 Minute Ride continues through Feb. 11 on Artists Rep’s Alder Stage. Ticket and schedule information here.