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The PlayMakers Repertory Company at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill began a second-stage series, now called PRC2, in its 2006-07 academic year with Doug Wright’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award®-winning one-man show I Am My Own Wife. The purpose of this new series is to broaden the regional theater’s offerings beyond the scope of its mainstage series in the Paul Green Theatre. PRC2 is also designed to focus on currently contentious social issues and to engender discussion of them; its productions are presented in the smaller Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre, also in UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art.
Each of the three shows of the 2007-08 PRC2 series is a one-person show: the first — When the Bulbul Stopped Singing (Sept. 12-16), David Greig’s English adaptation of a play by Raja Shehadeh — concerned the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; the final one — Witness to an Execution (April 23-27), written and performed by Mike Wiley — will be part of the university-wide examination of capital punishment; and the current show — 2.5 Minute Ride, written and performed by Lisa Kron — concerns, among many other things, commercialism’s trivialization and caricaturization of human experience — and the transcendent human refusal to have our feelings trivialized.
2.5 Minute Ride is a 65-minute monologue in which three wedges of idea come together in a gleaming final point. Kron uses stories from her life and about her family to delve into universal questions, fears, and verities; and she flicks back and forth among them — from a theme park vacation to a journey to Auschwitz to a trip to her brother’s wedding — to build her structure of thought and place it in a larger context of truth-searching through storytelling. You have to admire the bravery of an artist who can compare visiting Auschwitz with going to an amusement park, and who can get down to life’s most basic matters with a richly embroidered rhetoric.
The show is all talk, punctuated only with signifying stage crossings and the “projection” of invisible images. There is nothing to look at but a chair, a stool, a rectangle of light, and Kron herself, in simple black clothes. So, 65 minutes felt long — although not as long as the 2.5 minutes on a terrifying roller-coaster that Kron describes in the show. As a performance piece, it seemed a little lacking; but as a highly-crafted piece of writing, it is more than satisfactory. Kron has polished her pieces and fitted her idea-wedges with great care; and at the end, they arc the gaps between themselves like a magnetic lock snapping closed.
I have to feel that the Jan. 9th performance that I saw was not up to standard. Kron has won a stack of awards for 2.5 Minute Ride, and she wouldn’t have won them for what I saw. Sometimes it happens that way. The house wasn’t full and the audience was very quiet; the sparks never flew, and applause was merely polite. The performance’s humor didn’t seem all that sharp, let alone sparkling; and the pathos was not very poignant. Maybe it was a timing issue — I know I never felt like I got to fully absorb the powerful stuff before I was whipsawed back to a joke. Maybe some of humor just didn’t translate fully across cultural and geographic style barriers — certainly the one Southern reference seemed more an insult than a joke. Nonetheless, the show is replete with memorable lines and evokes images that burn themselves into your mind for future consideration. It’s not an overwhelming aesthetic experience, but it is mighty good brain food.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents 2.5 Minute Ride, written and performed by Lisa Kron, Friday-Saturday, Jan. 11-12, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 13, at 2 and 8 p.m. in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, North Carolina. $24-$32. 919/962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/. Lisa Kron: http://www.lisakron.com/.