Lisa Kron’s ambling, anecdotal “2.5 Minute Ride” jumps between a trio of tales about family trips: the Kron clan’s annual pilgrimages to the Cedar Point amusement park on the edge of Lake Erie, the family’s trip to her brother’s Orthodox Jewish wedding in New Jersey, and a journey Kron took with her father to the concentration camp where his parents died shortly after he was sent to the U.S. on the kindertransports. Kron brings to her tales the wry spin of a lesbian artist who both adores and is mortified by the Midwestern sensibilities that shaped her family, but while this “Ride” takes in some amusing and sometimes quite moving sights, there’s a lack of shape to the journey; it doesn’t yet have the form it needs to move beyond the ractonteur’s realm into that of art.
Kron, who wrote and performs under the direction of Lowry Marshall, takes her title from the length of one of her father’s beloved roller coasters, whose appeal to an elderly man in tenuous health is one of the many family oddnesses Kron presents with amusement. Another is her mother’s phobia of being photographed, an ironcald rule the family observed for decades without complaint. She details the Kron quirks with a plainness that adds to their peculiarness, and there’s particularly rich humor to be found in the fish-out-of-water stories of her lesbian friends at loose in the hinterlands: “She had that look lesbians get in amusement parks in Ohio,” Kron says offhandedly, earning a ripple of laughter that swells as the layers of irony sink in.
Her stories all have the unmistakable ring of reality, but they also share a certain randomness that we wait — in vain — to be dispelled. Not helping to add coherence are a series of asides about goofy dreams Kron interjects, set apart from the flow of things by a change in Trevor Norton’s sharp lighting design. Alesbian dreaming of a physical attraction to Dean Martin (“the later Dean Martin,” Kron adds incredulously) gets easy laughs, but these dream interludes have the kooky pointlessness of, well, dreams, and do little to clarify the show’s focus.
As she moves toward the heart of her story, the recounting of her trip to Auschwitz with her father, the evening gains some momentum. Particularly haunting is the image of Kron frantically searching the Auschwitz barracks after visiting hours for her father’s glasses, accidentally left behind. But much of Kron’s telling of her visit to Auschwitz lacks her personal stamp — perhaps inevitably, since the emotions evoked there are so grimly universal. That she admits as much — wailing at one point, “I don’t need to describe this to you. I feel like a cliche!” — doesn’t solve the problem.
When Kron tells of her father matter-of-factly stating that despite the horror of his parents’ fate he felt fortunate to be born a Jew, because he thus didn’t have the option of becoming a Nazi, the play hits an original and complex emotional note that deserves more careful exploring.
The heart of the play is Kron’s desire to move toward a greater understanding of her father’s remarkable life, but though she shows us some startling snapshots of it, it never fully takes shape. And the connections between the strands of her stories remain maddeningly vague and elusive.
It’s unclear just what is the significance of her father’s penchant for thrill rides, for instance, or how it may relate to his personal journey. It may seem unfair to look for meaningful connections in the crazy quilt of any life, but that’s what artists are here to do. With a little more finessing, Kron may yet make her “2.5 Minute Ride” a trip that adds up to more than the jumbled sum of its often intriguing parts.