‘The Long Christmas Ride Home’: great production, lame story
This bummer of a play had me wanting to race out of the theater and directly into the new “Spongebob Squarepants” movie for comic relief; sort of like having your head on fire and wanting only to immerse your noggin in a bucket of cold water.
Yes, Paula Vogel’s play “The Long Christmas Ride Home” at Denver’s Curious Theatre is a very interesting play that’s been getting strong reviews elsewhere, but it served only to remind me that the best production in the world will always suffer at the hands of a bad story.
And this first-rate production suffers mightily.
Blending elements of Japanese Noh and Bunraku-style puppets into the narrative mix, and layered with wonderfully fanciful lighting design and an onstage percussionist to punctuate many of the lines, “The Long Christmas Ride Home” is a refreshingly original departure from Western theater as we know it.
The additional element of Japanese music, Eastern philosophizing and an inter-married family confused about their spiritual identity added more to expectations, and one could almost feel the audience on the edge of its creaky old seats waiting for a series of genius strokes from the playwright to pull it all together.
But Vogel, who won a Pulitzer prize for her play “How I Learned To Drive,” fumbles the ball badly with an annoying parade of dysfunctional family stereotypes and cliches, beating us over the head with how bad things can be when Dad’s a jerk during your childhood.
And still, the elements of the play separate from the story continue to excite. As the car ride of the title is relived in the memory of the three children (portrayed by life-sized puppets manipulated by black-clad puppeteers on stage), the puppets come to life in the form of actors, now all grown up.
Alas, their over-the-top tales of woe only add to the mess of Vogel’s story, and it’s hard not to walk away from it all feeling like a great opportunity was squandered.
See “The Long Christmas Ride Home” if you’re curious about an innovative presentation of theater and a top-notch production with strong performances. Just don’t go expecting fun or to see a great story with new information about the human condition.
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