“That was the greatest ride,” says Lisa Kron — or rather, Lisa Kron as her own diabetic, heart-diseased, legally blind father — in “2.5 Minute Ride,” a rollercoaster that rambles up one track on an outing to a sun-baked Midwest amusement park, and swoops down another on a pilgrimage to the dark heart of Auschwitz.
The one-woman show, for which Kron won an Obie Award in its 1999 staging at New York’s Public Theater, is being performed by its creator for the first time in several years, during an all new engagement at Red Bank’s Two River Theater. It’s a production that re-teams the playwright with director Mark Brokaw — as well as with Two River Theater Company’s John Dias, who brought her play “Well” to Broadway a few seasons back.
The title notwithstanding, “2.5 Minute Ride” is an approximate hour and a half of high comedy, matter-of-fact tragedy, poignant fantasy — and the reality that life means having to drive many hours to get from one to the other. Framed as an unseen slide show on a sparsely appointed stage (designer Allen Moyer works with lighting director Philip Rosenberg and the audience’s own imagination to fill in the “missing” elements), the play finds Kron, laser pointer in hand, quantum-leaping from the slapstick sitcom of her aging family’s annual caravan to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio — to the “malevolent ground” of the Birkenau death camp, where she accompanies her ailing father on a trip to the place in which his parents met their fate.
Delivered by the playwright in a largely breezy, conversational tone that doesn’t let the pace flag for a second, it’s a “Ride” that hurtles willy-nilly through time more so than space; a midway attraction that travels parallel tracks, branching off into unexpected detours — a strangely funny scene at a Winona Ryder movie, a Gestapo member’s thought-provoking words to his interrogators, a supermarket encounter with the ghosts of Kron’s grandparents — that somehow converge on a satisfying end point. It may take a moment to realize that the ride has reached its conclusion, but a conclusion has most surely been reached.
Kron is hardly the first performer-playwright to have collaged a solo show from a scrapbook of family memories (or to have used the spectre of the Holocaust as the glue that holds the images in place), but unlike too many “Journey to Me” theatrical pieces, the author is not the center around which the universe revolves — she’s an observer-participant who cedes the spotlight to her impressions of her notoriously picture-phobic mother; a crippled and contrary aunt; a cantankerous closet-case uncle and a lonely brother whose Jewish Singles explorations lead him to embrace the Orthodox faith. The implication is that all of these people reside within her to varying degrees — and that it takes an understanding of these (at times unsympathetic) figures to form a portrait of the storyteller.
An out lesbian in a clan that would just as soon never have to attend another wedding — and a self-appointed caretaker who’s often in need of directions herself — the Lisa Kron of the script uses keynotes like food to trigger jumps between memories, and goes from complaining about the Sandusky theme park to wishing that the hopelessly confusing real-world Poland of her travels was replaced by a more easily navigable “Poland World.”
Lisa Kron has the take-no-prisoners timing of a battle-tested standup comic, the sizing-up savvy of a seasoned sideshow barker, the laser-honed instincts of a photojournalist, and the entrancing oral-tradition skills of that one good friend whose stories are a joy to listen to. She’s no slouch as a playwright and a performer either, and for the duration of this “Ride” she’s got the audience strapped in right where she wants them.
“2.5 Minute Ride” continues with a mix of matinee and evening performances through May 12. Tickets ($20 – $65 adults) can be obtained by calling (732)345-1400 or visiting www.trtc.org.