Onstage, mother and son never reach their destinations. If normally "getting there is half the fun," here it's 100%. That's a risky tactic, but "Wyoming's" failure isn't so much conceptual as executional.

Onstage, mother and son never reach their destinations. If normally “getting there is half the fun,” here it’s 100%. That’s a risky tactic, but “Wyoming’s” failure isn’t so much conceptual as executional.

As anyone knows, long-haul car travel is second only to cohabitation in revealing (or provoking) interpersonal dynamics. We certainly get a fair sense of Kitty and Roy’s rapport — she’s a careful, patient, appreciative listener, “best buddy” as well as good mom to the curious, rather precocious Roy. But that near-immediate impression never deepens much. Worse, it just idles dramatically — the relationship doesn’t change or evolve during this work’s (unclear) timespan, nor are any number of crucial riddles even half-solved. Why did the parents separate? Just what is the nature of dad’s business? Why does he have so many shady-sounding “associates”? (Gifford’s real-life father did have crime-world links, and also died in middle age; the author spent many childhood years in hotels with his mother.) Do Kitty and Roy have a home base? Are these trips occasional, or incessant?

Instead of explaining, the play just follows one incidental-feeling scene after another, in which parent and child pass the time discussing historical trivia, geography, news stories, heaven and hell. Gifford does have a gift for naturalistic dialogue that feels right for the period (though he lets things get overripe on occasion, as when Roy waxes too rhapsodic upon first hearing Little Richard’s “Lucille” on theradio). But the nostalgic personal weight these sketches may have for him doesn’t translate for an audience; it scarcely tries.

It’s a testament to cast and director Amy Glazer that “Wyoming’s” meanderings aren’t outright dull. Though her vocal delivery is a mite too contemporary, Darragh pretty much carries the show, fleshing Kitty out with nonstop character business, motherly concern and hints at barely restrained pain. Near the end, her face is a map of cruel experience as she admits, “Even when you get older, things don’t make sense.” But the feeling she invests that moment with is more potent than any supportive evidence the play has supplied. Brightman is admirably focused and lively, delivering more text than any 13-y.o. thesp should be asked to memorize.

Lauren Elder’s lovely set design — a highway strip stretching into the sky, with just car seats and a hotel lounge-chair out front — is impressive. Ditto Jim Cave’s lighting and David Molina’s sound design, which subtly suggest infinite variations in climate and landscape. All labor heroically to keep moving a play that, in stageworthy terms, never leaves the parking lot.

Wyoming

(MAGIC THEATER; 160 SEATS; $ 30 TOP)

Production

SAN FRANCISCO A Magic Theater presentation of a play in one act by Barry Gifford. Directed by Amy Glazer.

Crew

Set, Lauren Elder; costumes, Fumiko Bielefeldt; lighting, Jim Cave; music and sound, David Molina; stage manager, Ed Fonseca; production manager, Scott Paul Cannon. Artistic director, Larry Eilenberg. Opened, reviewed April 14, 2000. Running time: 1 HOUR, 25 MIN.

With

Kitty..... Anne Darragh Roy..... Alex Brightman Best known from his first collaboration with filmmaker David Lynch, "Wild at Heart," author Barry Gifford's customary terrain is post-modernist pulp --- rollicking tall tales that draw their half-ironical, half-swooning heat from the memory of yesteryear's dime novels, drive-in flicks and film noirs. His first stage work, however, is a straight-up memory play. The one-act two-hander "Wyoming" draws on vaguely autobiographical material that's already been published in magazine-serial form, with a novel (out this June) and screenplay in the works as well. It'll be interesting to see how those future incarnations turn out, but one thing is clear now: Theater is not the medium this story was meant for. Indeed, the biggest question "Wyoming" raises --- and it raises nothing but questions, satisfactorily answering none --- is why Gifford thought it might possibly work onstage in the first place. A mother-son road-tripping duet, almost exclusively limited in action to a car interior, it's a prolonged character sketch too sketchy by far for full-length treatment. What looks like a promising setup just keeps spinning its wheels, going nowhere: the play is a decent first scene inexplicably drawn out for almost 90 minutes, refusing to create a narrative arc or reveal more than teasing hints of backstory. At the start, Kitty (Anne Darragh) and 11-year-old Roy (Alex Brightman) are heading from Key West to Jackson, Miss., in what their garb tells us is the late 1950s or early '60s. Kitty recently separated from Roy's father; they're off to see Burt, "a friend ... kind of a new friend," she says mysteriously. We're not so sure about the purpose behind subsequent trips, which send the duo off to Georgia, Illinois, St. Louis, Memphis, Miami and other points, until at last they're driving to the absent, presumably cancer-felled father's funeral.
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