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Stalled Orange County freeways. Overheard family fights. Divorce. If cloudy VHS-era Belfast feels like purgatory, Studio Theatre’s 60 Miles to Silver Lake is set squarely in hell. Serge Seiden’s moving production of Dan LeFranc’s remarkable play offers at least modest hope that beauty and mercy can exist even there.
We’re trapped in the front seat of a Volvo crawling north up the Santa Ana Freeway with surly teen Denny and estranged dad Ky (Andrew Sonntag and Chris Mancusi). Ky’s shitty job always keeps him from arriving to exercise his weekend visitation rights until after Denny’s Saturday soccer games have ended. As in most families, their conversation is repetitive and predictable as the grave: Ky wants to know if his ex-wife has found a job or a boyfriend; Denny wants some In-N-Out Burger, control of the stereo, money to join another soccer league. At first, listening to this whiny kid and his flailing pop alternately attempt and resist connection with one another is as enervating as playwright Dan LeFranc no doubt intends. You’re never more conscious of being confined in your seat than when watching people confined in theirs—no surprise that even at 80 minutes, the show sometimes threatens to persist into yawning eternity.
But then staccato scene-breaks begin warping and folding the narrative we’ve been watching in real time. One hellish car trip splinters into many, seen as through a prism. We began to catch oblique glimpses of Ky and Denny’s memories, or dreams, or visions of their futures. The more we learn of their experience of the circumstances that pulled the family apart, the harder it becomes to sustain our early impression of them a louse and a brat.
Luciana Stecconi’s set thickens the air of mortality, hanging six Volvo hatchbacks behind the skeleton car the two actors inhabit, an image that suggests stacked caskets almost as readily as it does a bumper-to-bumper gridlock. And about those actors: Wow. Sonntag and Mancasui don’t get a second’s rest, and the emotional leaps demanded of them are as long and jarring as the temporal ones. It isn’t a comfortable ride, this journey from “When are we going to get there?” to “What are we going to get?” But the account of the trip is truthful and revelatory.