The past is present in “Sixty Miles to Silver Lake” — and so too, perhaps, the future.
It’s not far into Dan LeFranc’s one-act depiction of a father-son car ride that we begin to see ways in which young Denny, for all his disaffected posing and stubborn boundary pushing, is in fact a chip off the old block. (Casual, middle-class bigotry is one such manifestation.)
But the engrossing, talk-heavy play strays a bit further than a message about the hereditary nature of the sins of the father. In its many deliberately disorienting passages, which increase in frequency and intensity as “Sixty Miles” drives toward its unashamedly messy conclusion, the play suggests a Möbius strip of past and present, where the line between influence and consequence is blurred.
Kristian Sorensen’s Denny and Barlow Adamson’s Ky sit in an actual Volkswagen Passat, or half of one at least — hats off to the crew members who got it up to the second-floor theater space — and fill the play’s running length with conversation. Denny is dealing with much resentment and anger that he naturally doesn’t understand, stemming from the divorce of his parents and the one-sided version of events he receives at home from mom. His dad has just picked him up from soccer practice and they’re headed along Interstate 5 to his new bachelor pad in a comfortable neighborhood of Los Angeles.
It’s a mild spoiler to identify the experimental slant to the piece, and LeFranc may prefer his audiences enter the theater without expecting it at all. (If you want to remain entirely unspoiled, this would be a good point to stop reading.) But most of the play’s running time follows the subtle reveal that this is not necessarily one car ride, but perhaps a nonlinear compendium of moments from several such journeys. Significantly, the suggestion of more metaphysically derived conceits arrives deep into the play.
If the point of the play were merely the existence of this narrative sleight of hand, its rewards would be much smaller. But though he promises a bit more than he delivers, LeFranc gives us plenty to chew on about memory, perception, and storytelling itself.
As the young passenger, Sorensen is just terrific. He’s compelled to play iterations of Denny from about 10 years old to about 17, and he makes each voicing stick with his nuanced performance. There are so many moments he hits squarely on the head. Sorenson, who graduated from the School of Theatre at Boston University just last year, can mix outrage and affection on his face with careful calibration. When given an earnest but somewhat clunky compliment, Denny’s aghast expression visibly melts to something warmer.
Adamson, as Ky, travels a narrower spectrum. You can feel his annoyance at the proxy arguments over music and dinner plans that stand in for the more intangible things that divide father and son. He is absolutely spot-on as the tragically square dad who awkwardly quotes Jay Z. But I suspect there’s a deeper layer to be found in this character, more consonant with the elements that otherwise aim to push this play beyond the realm of basic domestic drama. When his advice about the birds and the bees goes from inappropriate to just plain creepy, we get a better glimpse at the darkness between the lines.
LeFranc’s script is a bit like a piece of music, with motifs and refrains that offer clues about chronology while reinforcing a sense of the scenes from a life playing out on an endlessly repeating loop. Director Shana Gozansky deftly leads her actors through these rhythms with a fine sense for when to tap the brakes and when to step on the gas pedal. The chemistry between the actors is compelling, particularly when they discover the humor that makes this a generally good-spirited visit to the theater. Gozansky stages the play in a corner of Deane Hall, making for an intimate audience experience.
Too often, a narrative-shredding concept stands atop a play like an inert thing, an artifice we’re meant to stand around and admire. It’s to this play’s great credit that its experimental leanings — perhaps the qualities that attracted Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston to the material — converse readily with its denotative meaning.
Appropriately, Anita Shriver’s set straddles the realistic and the impressionistic, with that centrally placed car framed by a wall of open maps. Juliana Beecher’s subtle lighting helps with the many scene transitions, and Andrew Duncan Will’s sound design grows in importance as the play takes its more confounding turns.
Together with a production by Zeitgeist Stage Company of “The Big Meal” opening this month, this stands as the local introduction to LeFranc’s work. It’s a worthwhile ride.Jeremy D. Goodwin can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.