BWW Review: World Premiere: Jen Silverman's ALL THE ROADS HOME at Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park
Jen Silverman must have one heck of an imagination. The much-lauded playwright and winner of multiple prestigious playwriting awards would, by any stretch, be considered a huge success. Yet, somehow, her play, All the Roads Home, making its world premiere at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, captures perfectly that intangible (yet excruciatingly real) moment when you realize your dream has completely passed you by. You missed the boat. You made your choices, and they were all wrong. But you go on with life anyway. The three generations of women in Silverman's 90-minute study on broken dreams do go on with their lives; they also try to make their daughters' lives better than their own.
Silverman's play begins in the 1950s when seventeen-year-old, Madeline (Rebecca S'manga Frank), runs off to New York City to become a dancer. But instead of dance lessons, she gets life lessons. The first lesson: lives that seem perfect are far from it. The second lesson: how babies are made. She moves back to her small Massachusetts town, and Max is born. We jump forward to the 1970s where Max dreams of two things: Dolly Parton (quite vividly, as Libby Winters, the actor who plays Nix, also portrays Dolly in Max's fantasies) and of running away to the "real America" to become a cowboy. Tina Chilip as Max skews more 13 than 17, but she is quirky and fun as the "tomboy" (the word you would use to describe Max in the 1970s). Max almost makes it out of her stifling suburb, but a twinge of guilt pulls her back, and she vows to raise a daughter who avoids the mistakes of the mothers. Enter Phoenix, who goes by Nix (Libby Winters). Nix is living her life on the road on her own terms, playing her own music. She is living her dream-or at least she thinks she is. Winters is a graceful performer who easily slides into a singer-songwriter role as she accompanies her engaging voice on guitar. Tramell Tillman rounds out the small cast and is excellent as several different men who impact the lives of the women.
All the Roads Home is not a play that burns brightly. But, under the attentive direction of Lee Sunday Evans, it keeps simmering, occasionally bubbles over into a boil, and then returns to a gentle churning, much like the lives of the women it is about. It's sad. It's hopeful. It's human. It is about finding happiness-or not finding it.
In Silverman's opinion, happiness is not something that you can discover hidden under a rock, stick in your pocket, and keep with you until it gets lost in the laundry. It threads in and out of your life, braided with sorrow, disappointment, and bewilderment. We wake up one day and realize that we are not what we thought we were going to be when we were seventeen. Or, maybe we are living our dream, and that dream is actually...making us miserable.
Silverman is fascinated with transformation and with family relationships, and this is 100% what this play is about. Optimists might think of turning from a lowly caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly when they hear the word transformation. Silverman sees transformation as something less flashy. It is not metamorphosis so much as it is adapting to real life. And with a talent for the poignant phrase (All the Roads Home has a ton of them), Silverman often made my heart twinge with recognition. An especially painful moment is when Madeline realizes that she completely missed the boat on her dream-by about a decade-and she screams out, "why didn't anyone teach me that!?" How many of us who came from normal families, in small towns, have thought, or spoken, or shouted those words at one time or another?
All the Roads Home may sound depressing, but it's not. Silverman manages to keep our heads above the water with humor and a gentleness that soothes rather than depresses. She seems to come to the conclusion that we can't escape our destiny, and our destiny will always lead us home. The less we fight, the easier it will be.
Photo credit: Libby Winters (Teacher/Dolly Parton/July/Nix) and Tina Chilip (Cathy/Max/Mercy) in the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park production of Jen Silverman's All the Roads Home. From one of the country's most exciting up-and-coming playwrights comes this poignant world premiere about three generations of women and the legacies they inherit.
All the Roads Home runs through April 23. For tickets call 513-421-3888 or visit www.cincyplay.com.
Photo - MIKKI SCHAFFNER; Date - March 2017