Review: ‘Another Way Home’ at Theater J

Is it a coincidence that Another Way Home—which opened at Theater J on Monday night—just happens to coincide with the start of sleepaway camp for kids in the DC area?

Naomi Jacobsonand Rick Foucheux. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Naomi Jacobson and Rick Foucheux. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Not at all. That’s because this deliciously funny, poignant and occasionally painful take on parental and teenage angst—performed by a pitch-perfect cast of five actors—is Theater J’s tribute to summer, when children are supposed to love being away, and when grownups are expected to enjoy being free.

Not so for the Nadelmans. As the play begins, Philip and Lillian—an upper middle class Jewish couple who live with their two teenage children on Manhattan’s fashionable Upper West Side—are on their way to a rural outpost in Maine to visit their son, who is a counselor-in training at Camp Kickapoo.

Yes, it’s Parents’ Day at sleepaway camp, and the Nadelmans have made great sacrifices to be there. But Joey, their difficult 16-year-old son, is not exactly grateful. He wishes he were someone or somewhere else. He knows that he’s a disappointment to his parents, unlike his 15-year-old sister, who is the quintessential high-achieving teenager. (She’s back in New York, achieving.)

Of course, the parents can’t control their criticism, aka kvetching. The bathroom is filthy, the bugs are biting and Joey is not wearing suntan lotion. He also doesn’t answer anyone’s letters.

Father and son clash, a fight breaks out and Joey is gone. Where, no one knows.

Thony Mena, Rick Foucheux, and Chris Stinson. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Thony Mena, Rick Foucheux, and Chris Stinson. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

And so begins the nightmare of this play—whose biting wit is equally matched by the pain the characters inflict on each other—and the revelations it offers. Joey’s disappearance may be the worst loss the Nadelmans have faced, but it is not the first.

Together, their lost hopes—for a happy family, with perfect children and meaningful lives—fuel a fire that threatens to engulf the marriage.

In a fine interview by John Stoltenberg—published recently in DC Metro Theater Arts –Shirley Serotsky, director of Another Way Home, says that she was “moved by the anguish of the parents” when they realize that “—for all that they can provide their children—they cannot make them happy.”

For Serotsky, who is also the Associate Artistic Director at Theater J,  the story of the Nadelman family, while Jewish in its details, is universal. “Surely,” she adds, “parents of any and all cultural backgrounds can relate to wanting their children to find joy and contentment in life.”

Another Way Home marks the return to Theater J of Playwright Anna Ziegler, who—though still in her 30s—has already seen eight of her plays brought to life on the stage.

One of her earlier works, Photograph 51, was produced at Theater J in 2011. Last fall, the play ran in London’s West End. It will open on Broadway next season with Nicole Kidman in the leading role.

Hopefully, Another Way Home will follow suit. The play, which had its world premiere at the Magic Theatre of San Francisco in 2012, received a best New American Play Award for that year.

Ironically, Rick Foucheux—the actor who plays Philip in this production—performed the role at one of the play’s original workshops at the Eugene O’Neill Center in 2010.

Foucheux, familiar to Washington audiences for his Helen Hayes Award-winning role in Freud’s Last Session at Theater J puts on a stunning performance as the embattled father. He draws gasps as well as guffaws from the audience.

Naomi Jacobson is equally strong as Lillian Nadelman, the maddening Jewish Mother who licks her wounds while repeating all her transgressions.

Jacobson is one of the most gifted actors I’ve seen on the DC stage. Last seen in The Critic and the Real Inspector Hound at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, she has played leading roles in Life Sucks at Theater J, Bad Dog at Olney and Richard III at the Folger.

Joey—the poor benighted kid who is disliked by other campers as well as his parents—is played with morose aplomb by Chris Stinson. Although this is his debut at Theater J, Stinson has appeared in Shear Madness at The Kennedy Center and at other local theaters.

Shayna Blass. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Shayna Blass. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Shayna Blass plays Nora, the perky kid sister who tries to emulate Taylor Swift and nearly brings down the house whenever she sings like her idol. No stranger to Theater J, she appeared in the title role of Yentl last year.

Another newcomer to Theater J’s main stage, Thony Mena gives a strong performance as Mike, the counselor who comes from a different racial background.(In one of her classically incorrect questions, Lillian asks him if he is Phillipino or Mexican.) Mena invests the role with great dignity.

The entire drama—including scenes in New York where Nora is scrunched up on her narrow bed, clutching her mobile phone while her parents search for Joey—is played out on a single set.

Designed by Paige Hathaway, it consists of a giant two-dimensional cabin with a bunk bed and some lockers. The huge wrought iron letters, spelling out “CAMP KICKAPOO,” dominate the stage, even when the action shifts back to Manhattan or forward in time.

The movement in time—from present to past and present again—is almost seamless, thanks to the considerable craft of Karen Currie, the stage manager, who has choreographed the tides of memory so that the flow is easy and entirely credible.

Currie’s work is greatly helped by the lighting design of Harold F. Burgess II, who uses the waning light is a metaphor for memory and loss. Similarly, the twanging chords of a guitar—created by Sound Designer Matthew Nielson—usher in the shifting times and scenes.

Costume Designer Debra Sivigny gives us wonderful visual clues to these characters. Lillian’s svelte “camp visiting outfit”—including her painfully unsuitable shoes—looks, for example, like something that leapt right out of a photo-essay by the late bill Cunningham for the New York Times.

Although it’s beautifully written there are some odd inconsistencies in the plot. Fortunately, these flaws are minor and easily overlooked under the spell that is cast by these five performers, helping us to suspend disbelief as we, and they, contemplate the power of love and loss.

Another Way is a jewel of a play not to be missed.

Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, with no intermission.

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Another Way Home plays through July 17, 2016 at Theater J at The Washington DC JCC’s Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater – 1529 16th Street, NW (16th and Q Streets), in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 777-3210, or purchase them online.

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