Review: ‘See Rock City and Other Destinations’

Steven Shainberg and Robert Downey Jr.

"What are you afraid of?" characters ask all too often in "See Rock City and Other Destinations," a road trip tuner that travels a lot of geographical territory but covers limited emotional distance. Even at 90 minutes, it's one long haul.

“What are you afraid of?” characters ask all too often in “See Rock City and Other Destinations,” a road trip tuner that travels a lot of geographical territory but covers limited emotional distance. Even at 90 minutes, it’s one long haul. The search for something more, whether it’s love, identity or UFOs, is usually the beginning of a journey developed during the course of a show. But in this slight and only sometimes bright musical, premiering at Barrington Stage’s summer lab under the eye of composer William Finn, that’s all there is, which leaves plenty of work for the creative team to do before further exposure.

The show consists of six vignettes about people whose principal characteristics are yearning for something more in their lives and searching for “where I’m meant to be.” This lonely, desperate or secret ache is the driving force for each scene, and, although the characters gain some greater sense of fulfillment in the end, it is too easily reached.

Show starts inelegantly with generic dull youth (Benjamin Schrader) searching for self on the open road where he encounters sassy waitress (Gwen Hollander). Before you can say “Want some pie?”, she joins him on a mysterious trip to see Rock City, a tourist attraction promoted on barn roofs dotting the rural countryside.

But it’s all vague, instant and cliched, with little specificity in the telling or charm in the perfs. We’re simply on a trip to nowhere fast. Even when we get there — it’s a city built out of rocks, duh — we’re not sure what we’re supposed to feel or why.

Subsequent stories include a comically quirky guy (Wesley Taylor) in Roswell, N.M., awaiting an E.T. experience and soliloquizing with his videocamera; and a caring young woman (Cassie Wooley) with her infirm grandfather (John Jellison) at the present-day Alamo where she meets a lonely lawyer looking for love (David Rossmer).

These and other episodes hint obliquely at ill-defined other-worldly connections. The music and lyrics of Brad Alexander set the offbeat tone and fill in some of the blanks but are still not enough to keep the aud from feeling lost or bored.

Things perk up on an Alaskan cruise during which three sisters (Hollander, Wooley and Jill Abramovitz) attempt to dispose of their father’s ashes. Adam Mathias’ book finally finds its spark with this scene and the women play it so well one wishes the entire show were about their Wendy Wasserstein-ish story.

Another engaging-but-still-thin scene observes two prep school teens (neat perfs by Schrader and Taylor) who play hooky and venture to Coney Island where a spookhouse ride unveils the depths of their friendship. The scene also lets loose the show’s most energetic and entertaining song, a male one-upmanship number called “You Are My Bitch.” (“I’m Stanley Kowalski and you’re that guy Mitch” is an especially delicious rhyme.)

Show concludes with a runaway bride (Abramovitz) facing her own fears at Niagara Falls with the help of a strange tour guide (Rossmer).

Kevin Del Aguila’s helming nicely underplays, making perfs more personal in the intimate second-stage space. Though show builds interest as it progresses, the audience waits in vain for a cumulative effect. Instead, there’s an interesting side trip here and there but not much more.

See Rock City and Other Destinations

Stage II, Pittsfield, Mass.; 105 seats; $30 top


A Barrington Stage presentation of a musical in one act with book and lyrics by Adam Mathias, music by Brad Alexander. Directed by Kevin Del Aguila. Music direction, Vadim Feichtner.


Sets, Brian Prather; costumes, Mark Mariani; lighting, David F. Segal; sound, Jillian Walker; production stage manager, Wesley Apfel. Opened, reviewed Aug. 14, 2008. Runs through Aug. 26. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.


With: Jill Abramovitz, Gwen Hollander, John Jellison, David Rossmer, Benjamin Schrader, Wesley Taylor, Cassie Wooley.
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