Sixty Miles to Silver Lake

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Editorial Review

Family drama '60 Miles' goes on forever at Studio Theatre

By Nelson Pressley
Monday, April 26, 2010

An intriguing exhibition is taking place upstairs at the Studio Theatre, where two actors have mastered a blitzkrieg of father-son scenes, playing them all in the front seat of a car. The dialogue propels the duo backward and forward in time, sometimes hurtling across years in a single line. The non-linear memorization alone is impressive.

So, too, is the layered soundscape of radio tunes, dreams and memories that act as cushion and counterpoint to the dialogue. Also notable is the bank of Volvo tailgates on the back wall of the rough-and-ready Stage 4 space, plus the welded frame and cushioned seats that make up the car the characters occupy -- hey, nice body work.

There is a 75-minute play in the middle of all this: It's called "60 Miles to Silver Lake," and it chronicles the awful relationship between the father and son, who have been stuck together in the car time and again over the years. (The script just won a playwriting prize from the New York Times.) The family situation is glum, and the father, in particular, is a cartoonish, smarmy cretin of carnal appetites and alarmingly inappropriate advice. The story, if told straight, would probably be too thin to hold the stage.

Playwright Dan LeFranc thus makes a puzzle of it, locking Ky (the father) and Denny (the son) in place and listening for the significant repetitions in their dialogue over the years. One moment Denny's a preteen; the next, he's about to get his driver's license. Tropes come up again and again: Has Ky thought to bring any food for the kid after soccer? (Mom reliably brings burgers in a bag.) Does Denny's mom -- Ky's ex-wife -- have a job yet?

Bit by bit, we rough in the details of the divorce. Then comes evidence of the brazen infidelities, and then the trash-talking as Ky and the unseen ex-wife vent their mutual bitterness through poor Denny. The play's snap is all in the form, which is exceptionally well-handled by director Serge Seiden, the designers and the actors. Lights and sound shift on a dime, with Chris Mancusi (appropriately revolting as Ky) and Andrew Sonntag (a wry, disobedient menace as Denny) instantly adjusting as the story lurches two years backward, five years ahead -- whenever.

It doesn't add up to much more than a parlor trick. As time compresses, the show accelerates as if the gas pedal's stuck, and the acting takes on a grotesque quality, the characters riffing on their pathetic performances as warped father and son, trapped in a journey of alienation. The theatrics are swell . . . but are we there yet?

By Dan LeFranc. Directed by Serge Seiden. Set, Luciana Stecconi; lights, John Burkland; costumes, Brandee Mathies; sound, Ryan Gastelum. About 75 minutes.