The Way West: Damsels in Distress

On April 21, 2015, the Marin Theater Company premiered The Way West which had won Marin Theater Company’s 2013 Sky Cooper New American Play Award.   Playwright Mona Mansour was awarded the 2014 Middle East America Distinguished Playwright Award, so expectations were high. The story line revolves around the relationship of a mother and two daughters caught in the maelstrom of the financial collapse.  The mother is attempting to declare bankruptcy, while she tries to evoke hope in the two daughters with references to the Old West and the pioneers. Anne Darragh, as Mom, offers a humorous touch despite her situation, framed by the engaging, light tunes accompanying the story that she and the daughters occasionally sing as counterpoint. Mom copes, but doesn’t seem to have a clue about how she got into the mess or even appear to be concerned about it.  The youngest daughter, Meesh, played by Rosie Hallett, is as numb as her mom, and only contributes to her mother’s financial demise, without any personal recriminations.  The only hope appears to be in the older daughter, Manda, played by Kathryn Zdan, who supposedly holds a reputable job as a grant writer.  But her façade falls as she, too, is knee deep in a credit mess which she fails to recognize because she pays the sizable minimum payments each month and happily offers to open up another credit account, without any compunction.  Soon, through her own irresponsibility, she is out of a job and beset with the same prospect of being out on the street.  Three clueless ladies!

Anne Darragh (Mom), Kathryn Zdan (Manda) and Rosie Hallett (Meesh) in West Coast premiere of Mona Mansour’s The Way West, on stage at Marin Theatre Company

The other two characters in the play, Tress, played by Stacy Ross, and Manny/and the Pizza Man, played by Hugo Carbajal, offer context to the mess. Tress has borrowed money from Mom (Mom’s father’s trust?) to invest in a direst sales scam to sell glorified beauty water, which, naturally, goes belly-up. While she professes responsibility, she is equally lost. Manny, a start-up paralegal, functions as a source of hope for Mom’s bankruptcy request and Manda’s future security as a potential returning beau. Hugo reappears to play the separate role of the pizza man who delivers the message that there is just no more credit! The closest that the play comes to a climax is at the end when Manda says that her Mom is a statistic just like the folks who died on their way West—all optimism and no practicality.  The family takes no responsibility for their mess—just that that they will pack their belongings in boxes, bought on credit, and move on after the house is assumed by the bank.

All this said, the play is engaging, the story line has a relationship to our pioneering forbears who set out optimistically to face the unknown, with all their fatalistic flaws, and the actors charm the audience into believing the premise without totally buying into it. It is a modern take on an old melodrama: the anonymous villain is the credit card company; the damsels in distress are clueless. Alas! There is no hero.

It was an enjoyable evening in an intimate theater. MTC is to be commended for its pioneering spirit!

review by Linda Cederblom, For All Events reviewer