There’s a lot going on in Lisa Kron’s life. There’s her brother’s upcoming marriage, a ceremony that’s being held at a Jewish community center with “a wonderful design out of a 1972 James Bond movie.” There’s her family’s annual trip to Cedar Point, the Ohio amusement park famous for having over a dozen roller coasters. Her blind, 75-year-old father claims to love riding the coasters, even though when he gets on an especially fast one, Lisa observes, “he has a look on his face like a horse in a fire.”
And then there’s the trip she took with her father to Europe, where they visit the town in Germany where he was born – as well as Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp where his parents were killed.
Lisa’s father, you see, has had a lot going on his life too.
In 2.5 Minute Ride – the title comes from the length of the trip on that roller coaster – Kron switches back and forth between these three stories. She never makes a direct parallel between them, but by contrasting different parts of her father’s saga and telling the stories in graphic, concise detail, she paints a remarkably full portrait of a life filled with both pleasure and pain. And sometimes, as on a breakneck roller coaster ride, the pleasure and pain can come at the same time.
At first, Kron’s monologue seems like just another chronicle of a family full of eccentrics – a mother who refuses to have her picture taken, a “closet queen” uncle complaining about strangers’ eating habits. You’ve seen families like Lisa’s before, of various nationalities and religions. And when Lisa reaches the amusement park and complains “The day has just begun and already I’m feeling trapped, trapped, trapped with my family,” you may feel you know where this is going.
But you’d be wrong. 2.5 Minute Ride soon transcends formula, largely due to the compassion and humanity in Kron’s portraits of her family. Her script is full of wry observations, but she never tries too hard to be cute. And when it pivots in tone to examine the legacy of the Holocaust, it also deals with that horror from an unexpected angle. Kron’s father worked during the war as an Army interrogator, where he once broke the spirit of a Gestapo officer, but now, decades later, he’s haunted by the memory of his enemy and ponders how much the two men had in common and how little separated their fortunes.
Unlike many one-person shows, there’s a strong theatrical sensibility at play here. Instead of just telling the audience her story, the narrator is commenting on a series of slides she’s showing the audience. Except we never see the slides – they’re indicated by lighting shifts and the sound of a clicker. (Alyssandra Docherty designed the lighting, and Larry Fowler did the same for the sound.) It’s a neat effect that prevents the show from becoming too literal – but we can visualize the photos based on Lisa’s vivid descriptions.
Kron – now best known for her superb, Tony-winning book and lyrics for the musical Fun Home – originally performed 2.5 Minute Ride in the late 1990s as a one-woman piece in New York and elsewhere. But in this Philadelphia-area premiere, her role is played by Leah Walton. Walton is completely winning, with a chipper effervescence that makes the 90 minutes fly by. But when the horrors of Auschwitz provoke Walton to fury, her anger feels earned. At one point she struggles to regain her composure, and it’s a touch that grounds her performance.
It’s in such moving moments that the hand of Director Elaina Di Monaco is most evident. She never lets Walton rely solely on her fast-talking charm; it’s in the show’s moments of stillness and poignant reflection that it’s most resonant.
Sara Outing’s elegant production design fills the Theatre Horizon stage with empty picture frames, echoing the missing slides from the unseen carousel. They remind us that as vivid as Lisa Kron’s story and Leah Walton’s performance are, they can only hint at the full measure of a life.
Running time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.