Daniel Petzold as Joey (foreground) and Jeremy Kahn as Mike T. in the world premiere of Anna Ziegler’s Another Way Home at Magic Theatre. Below: Mark Pinter is Philip and Kim Martin-Cotten is Lillian. Photos by Jennifer Reiley
Director Meredith McDonough’s production of Another Way Home, a world-premiere play by Anna Ziegler, at the Magic Theatre, is so sharp, so expertly performed and executed it may take a while to realize that the play itself is a fragment that doesn’t amount to much or really even make much sense. There’s a play in there I’d like to see, but it’s not the one that Ziegler has delivered.
Like John Guare did in Six Degrees of Separation, Ziegler has a well-heeled Manhattan couple address the audience directly as if whatever story they’re about to relate has had little effect on them beyond another story from the “anecdote jukebox.” They’re speaking from the other side of the events that comprise the action of the play, and that distance is a chasm that the drama only occasionally bridges in the play’s short, 75-minute running time.
The crisis at hand involves a difficult 17-year-old, summer camp and self-involved, overbearing parents who also serve as our narrator guides. Philip (Mark Pinter) works too much for two primary reasons: to provide for his family and to escape his family. Lillian (Kim Martin-Cotten) is a wife and mother without enough to do except obsesses over her marriage and her children. The older child is Joey (Daniel Petzold), a difficult kid who has been diagnosed with everything from ADD to depression. He has learning issues and social issues, so the fact that he can go away to Maine’s Camp Kickapoo and have a reasonably good time is something of an achievement. Younger child Nora (Riley Krull) is a stark contrast to her brother: she’s well behaved, good in school and doesn’t antagonize her parents at every turn.
When Philip and Lily show up in Maine for parents’ day at camp, Joey, who is serving as a counselor-in-training, goes ballistic and goes missing, much to the surprise of his counselor/friend Mike T. (Jeremy Kahn). Joey’s absence gives his parents ample time to squabble with each other, call Nora back in Manhattan and guide us through not-so-interesting flashbacks and internal monologues. We spend way too much time focused on the parents and not nearly enough on the kids, especially Joey.
Seeing this story from Joey’s perspective and not through the cold storytelling vantage point of his parents would be ever so much more interesting. There’s a scene (with no narration) between Joey and Mike T. that is full of emotional charge as two boys, damaged in different ways by their families, forge a connection. The scene is beautifully performed by Kahn and Petzold, and it makes you long for more of their individual stories. But this is a brief respite from the parents, who soon regain control of the story. There’s also a poignant interaction (via phone) between mother and daughter. Nora admits that she doesn’t really believe in god, but since her brother went missing, she’s been praying and wants her mother to pray with her. Lillian agrees, but rather than seeing how it might transpire that a not particularly religious mother and daughter pray on the phone, Lillian switches into narrator mode and tells us that it happened. Whatever happened to the preference for showing rather than telling?
The performances are solid throughout, and Martin-Cotten and Pinter work especially hard to overcome the fact that their characters are aggravating and annoying more than they are interesting or endearing. They don’t ultimately succeed, having been trumped by the performances of Kahn, Petzold and Krull as the young people with much more intriguing narratives. Something tells me that if any one of the young people had been the focus rather than the parents, this over-told story would end with something other than a supposedly meaningful family portrait session, something that actually illuminated the parent-child dynamic rather than just related one more story about it.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Anna Ziegler’s Another Way Home continues through Dec. 2 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$65. Call 415-441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org.