This Covered Wagon Needs a Tow Truck
How does the old-fashioned pioneer spirit handle modern problems? What does it do about bankruptcy, wrecked cars, obstinate offspring? The character of Mom in Marin Theatre Company’s “The Way West,” manages them by denying everything, telling stories or singing. These strategies have always worked for her, but Mom may have come to the end of the trail this time.
“The Way West” forecasts its journey with a wonderful set by Geoffrey M. Curley, a tilted construction of disordered tables and overstuffed furniture, ribbed over with arches that evoke the interior of a covered wagon. In it, Mom quarrels with her two daughters, Manda, the high achiever from Chicago, and Meesh, the loser who stayed home. Both of them often agree that they don’t know what Mom’s talking about.
Still, Manda’s going to help Mom complete the paperwork for bankruptcy, a procedure this lady sees as her last chance, and Manda’s old boyfriend, Luis, is available to help with the legalities.
There will be a lot of them. Has Mom really charged $3500 to an Elizabeth Arden account? Is it possible she’s paid $500 for a tiny bottle of “magic water” that her friend Tress is selling to her spa customers? Did Mom actually crash Meesh’s car in the garage? She doesn’t think so. “Prairie wisdom,” she says, “is not to talk about it.” And then Manda is downsized. The wheels have, as the title card says, come off this covered wagon.
Playwright Mona Mansour sees her own American mother as the inspiration for Mom and for the “theatrical moments” in the play. These are the stories Mom tells — real whoppers — that are supposed to illustrate to the girls how fortunate they are not to be dying along the route, starving and confronting ravening coyotes. She also tosses musical instruments at them like a cheerleader, rallying songs that urge “Roll, roll, roll!” or “Fight! Fight! Fight!” And even though this family has come to a dead stop somewhere around Stockton or Modesto, Mom’s core belief is, “The next place will be better.”
The songs are not old campfire favorites, like “Home on the Range.” They’re originals, composed by Megan Pearl Smith and Sam Misner. During the singing, Director Hayley Finn has the cast members sing not to each other, but to the audience; the same occurs with Mom’s stories. It’s unusual direction and seems to freeze any forward action.
Anne Darragh presents a warm-hearted, gullible Mom, the object of equal parts affection and exasperation. Marin Theatre Company newcomer Rosie Hallett plays daughter Meesh, who’s stayed at home much too long. Kathryn Zdan — as good a musician as she is an actress — has the part of Manda, the one who almost got away by going east.
Stacy Ross, MTC regular, here has a small, but effective role as Tress, the spa owner who has come to believe her own sales pitches. And Hugo E. Carbajal, another newcomer, carries two entirely different parts as boyfriend/legal advisor Luis and as the no-pay-no pizza delivery guy.
“The Way West” has a short run of only twenty-nine shows. It will close on Mother’s Day, May 10. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances are at 8p.m., Wednesdays are at 7:30 and Sundays are at 7p.m. Matinees are every Sunday at 2p.m., also Thursday, April 30 at 1p.m. and May 9 at 2p.m.
Ticket prices range from $20 to $53, and discounts are available for teens, seniors, military personnel and their families. (Bring ID.)
For reservations or more information, call the Box Office, (415) 388-5208 or see firstname.lastname@example.org.