At the start of “The Road Home: Re-Membering America,” Marc Wolf’s new solo piece of journo-drama about his trip home from the West Coast to the East after 9/11, a subject asks the playwright-performer, “So what’s the point of these interviews?” But Wolf never comes up with a satisfying answer in this shapeless and ineffectual work, which debuted earlier this season at Rochester’s Geva Theater and is now getting a second go-round in Boston.
Wolf has a notion: By renting a car and heading back to Manhattan, interviewing a wide range of folks along the way, he hopes to capture a snapshot of America at a particular point of time (even if it is a month or two after the terrorist attacks). But some pictures — especially those that are unfocused, pointless and carelessly shot — should be left in the bottom drawer.
Unlike in the work of Anna Deavere Smith — or even his own previous piece, “Another American: Asking and Telling,” about gays in the military — there is no inherent dramatic issue being examined here, at least judging from Wolf’s nonspecific and scattershot questions and the way his subjects ramble on. There’s an art in interviewing — not to mention shaping the material — and it is painfully lacking here.
In addition, Wolf doesn’t display the virtuosity to pull off re-creations of his diverse subjects, which include a German hitchhiker, a Native American woman, a Muslim, a Malaysian, a pair of young Mexican women, a coal miner’s widow and an annoying 6-year-old.
The subjects talk of their anger at the government, their paranoia about their neighbors, their conflicting feelings about New York. But mostly they just yak on — sometimes in girlish silliness or a drunken stupor — about their own little worlds. This disconnect could be a valid, albeit downbeat, approach. Indeed, the subtitle suggests the work might take a deconstructionist angle. But Wolf’s interviews aren’t crafted as pieces of an epic puzzle but as outtakes of poorly assembled interviews in search of a play.
Helmer David Schweizer fails to bring any sense of clarity or drama. Andrew Lieberman’s set, which features a picnic table on a plot of artificial turf, along with assembly hall stackable chairs, lacks any sense of place. Peter West’s lighting has little shading. Video and slide projections by Will Pickens and Brian Pratt are diverting, but the clips of rolling clouds seem to be searching for something that isn’t there.
The promise of a show like “The Road Home” is that during this personal odyssey, something will be illuminated, shared or understood. But we learn little of Wolf or of America during his journey; all we get is one long trip.