BWW Reviews: Theater LaB Houston's SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE is a Master Class in Compelling Acting

BWW Reviews: Theater LaB Houston's SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE is a Master Class in Compelling Acting
L to R: Jacob Perkel as Denny & John Dunn as Ky.

Dan LeFranc is the winner of the 2010 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award. The Regional Premiere of his SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE, produced by Theater LaB, easily illustrates why he won such a prestigious award. Written for two actors and taking place inside a Volvo traveling on I-5, SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE initially seems like a microcosm presentation of the affects of an ugly divorce on a modern American family; however, as time shifts and the singular trip being taken by the cast begins to represent every Saturday morning trip to Silver Lake that these two shared and more, it becomes clear that SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE is truly a macrocosm of modern American struggles.

Directing the piece, Linda Phenix does an extraordinary job. In a recent interview with her about the show she said "the actor who plays the son, plays different ages, and the stage directions don't say that Denny is this age now or that Denny is that age at this point or whatever. It's really challenging in that you have to scrub it out yourself and figure it out, which was wonderful." Linda Phenix handles these shifts in time masterfully, and has coached her cast to make them easy for the audience to understand and digest. They never seem abrupt or awkward; instead, they add a layer of enigmatic intrigue to the plot and draw us further into the psychology of the piece.

The beauty of the play comes from John Dunn's performance as Ky. He masterfully creates a father that deeply and believably loves his son. Yet, his failed marriage and his bitterness towards his ex-wife cause him to bring up inappropriate topics with his son on these drives. The conversations we see the two have mostly range from awkward to unfortunate, but the one constant is Ky's tangible love for his child. John Dunn's Ky clearly wants what is best for his son, but his Ky is also immature in many ways himself. He laments how much he pays for the club soccer team that his son plays for, decries that he won't be paying for his son's college, and complains about purchases his ex-wife makes with their joint credit card. When not complaining about money and finances, Ky discusses sex and sexuality, religion, In-N-Out Burger, traffic, taxes, job dissatisfaction, music, and more with his son, attempting to pass on life lessons despite his inability to truly connect to his son.

Jacob Perkel brings strength to the production, playing Denny across a spectrum of ages with impressive skill. He opens the show with Denny as a young child, as the conversation progresses he shifts Denny to teenage years, letting the audience see Denny grow and mature. Over the course of the production we see his Denny regress and progress in age, and he performs the character as young as possibly six or so (pre-divorce) to as old as maybe thirty, when Denny himself coaches soccer on the weekends and is seemingly employed in a dead-end job that he hates. In addition to playing a plethora of ages, Jacob Perkel infuses the character with captivating emotionality. As a young child, he is animated and active, fogging the windows of the car to draw on them. As a teen he is angst-ridden and uncomfortable discussing topics like his mother and his budding romantic experiences with his father. As is true in almost every parent-child relationship, they clash over tastes in art and forms of expression while Denny is a teenager.

Both John Dunn and Jacob Perkel create vastly interesting characters and deliver performances that the audience gets swept away by. They capably steer our attention for the full 80-minute production, keeping the audience carefully attending to everything they say and do. Yet, their skill becomes all the more apparent when the play begins to collapse in on itself. Early on, Dan LeFranc has certain phrases begin to be repeated. The cast also uses scattered repetition of bodily movements. As the play draws nearer and nearer to its deeply affecting climax, these repetitions of lines and movements come more frequently until we understand the significance of the flashing red lights, Denny's fear, and the shaking car motif, which interrupts the conversation from time to time. Even though we have been laughing for most of the ride, in the climax John Dunn and Jacob Perkel leave the audience totally breathless as we are devastatingly heartbroken by the play's surprising turn of events and simultaneously overjoyed by their final shared moment, which occurs outside of the car.

Set Design by Raul Rivera recreates the idea of a Volvo on the stage, utilizing just enough real car parts for the audience to construct the rest of the automobile in our imaginations. Additionally, Raul Rivera's Lighting Design begins simplistically, keeping the cast in the warm amber colors of the early afternoon. As the play progresses, it shifts to match the changing tone and mood of the show.

Projections by John Dunn complete the idea of the car, giving the audience three windows against a black wall. This allows us to visualize the backseat of Ky's vehicle without distracting us from the master class in compelling acting occurring on the stage. His projections for the finale of the play are simplistically beautiful, making the final minutes all the more gripping and affective.

SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE is anything but a conventional play and continues Gerald LaBita's commitment of bringing the best of New York's Off-Broadway shows to Houston stages. This fascinating piece by Dan LeFranc gives audiences plenty to think about and discuss on the car ride home, and the performances offered by John Dunn and Jacob Perkel are honestly among the best that I have ever seen in Houston.

The Regional Premiere of SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE, produced by Theater LaB Houston, runs at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak Drive, Houston, 77007 now through Sunday, March 30, 2014. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.theaterlabhouston.com or call (713) 868-7516.

Photo courtesy of Theater LaB Houston.

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