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.