From Auschwitz to Sandusky, 2.5 Minute Ride touches and thrills
DETROIT, Mich. – There’s a wonderful — repeat, wonderful! — play being produced downtown at Matrix Theatre Company. Lansing native Lisa Kron’s 2.5 Minute Ride is part one-person show, part Holocaust survival story, part comedy, part drama. It tells the tale of Kron (portrayed here by the equally wonderful Luna Alexander), a lesbian New Yorker, and her relationship with her Midwest, Michigan-based family.
For those familiar with Kron’s work, she herself is part playwright, part performer, part memoirist, part Jewish historian. She often appears in her own work, as herself. In 2006, Kron received a Tony Award nomination for her performance in her two-person play “Well,” featuring the fabulous Jayne Houdyshell, who graced the stage at Meadow Brook for many a season back in the 1990s. Set in 1996, 2.5 Minute Ride serves as a sort of pre-cursor to “Well,” a play about Kron and her mother, as we see traces of what is to come with the family matriarch. But the never-seen co-star of this particular play is Kron’s father, Walter, whom she describes as a 75-year-old, blind, Holocaust survivor.
Over the course of 95 minutes, sans intermission, Ms. Alexander, as Ms. Kron, treats us to the story of her attempt to make a video documentary about her father’s extraordinary life. As a young boy, Mr. Kron escaped from Nazi Germany, but his own parents did not. They were taken to Auschwitz, where they were murdered in the gas chamber. Kron returns home to Lansing, along with her partner, to shoot her documentary. While there, the two women accompany the entire Kron clan, in their American-made motor vehicles, on a trip to Cedar Point.
As one might imagine, the tales of Kron’s family, whom she lovingly refers to as “cripples,” are hilarious. Her father pops nitroglycerin before hopping onto rides like the Demon Drop and the Mantis. (The title of the play, we eventually learn, comes from the amount of time it takes to ride the wooden coaster called the Mean Streak — which is one of the funniest sequences in the production, as Ms. Alexander reenacts the duration of the ride, her faces contorting with pain as the wind whips against it, and she holds onto her chair for dear life.)
Juxtaposed with Kron’s fun-filled, laugh-inducing stories of her trip to Sandusky, she shares with us the tale of a trip she took with father to his homeland, to visit the place where his own parents had died, fifty years prior. Under the taut direction of David Wolber, the transition from one trip to the other is seamless. A mere change in lights, and we are no longer in America. We are with Kron in Poland, then eventually Auschwitz. And like Kron, we are slowly steeped in the horror of what took place on this now-sacred ground.
As Ms. Kron, Ms. Alexander gives an enthralling performance. She does not leave the stage, except for once. And when she does, it’s perhaps the play’s most riveting moment. She is funny, charming, and awe-inspiring in the way she holds our attention. She is also not afraid to look us in the eye. As with any one-person show, the audience is her scene partner. She needs us just as much as we need her to tell us this story. At one moment, she asks if anyone has not seen “Schindler’s List.” No one in the audience says a word, but Ms. Alexander looks at each and every one of us for confirmation before she continues. Sure, there are times when she does falter with her words. But we’ll cut her some slack. There are a lot of words in this play! And remember, here’s an actor out there all alone, which is a scary place to be, especially when revealing the kinds of emotion she is required by this tremendous piece of Theater.
Technically speaking, the production is a study in minimalism. Walking into the space, we see nothing but black-painted walls, a black-painted floor and a black chair. But this play doesn’t require a fancy set or rely on costume changes to jazz it up. It’s the story of this play that is most important. It must be pointed out that part of Ms. Kron’s story is told through the use of slide projections. Designed by Megan Buckley-Ball, they are brilliant! A single colored square appears on the back black wall, accompanied by the familiar “click” of a slide projector. But we don’t see any image on the slide. Instead, we are told by Ms. Alexander, as Ms. Kron, what we are supposed to be seeing. Therefore, we are required — as we are often required during the play — to use our imaginations, something many of us don’t often do anymore, since movies and TV with their “show, don’t tell” style of storytelling are so prevalent in our worlds.
Another thing that must also be pointed out, given the current state of our post-election United States, is the relevance of this particular play. Did Ms. Kron know when she first wrote it that, 20 years later, we would be living in a world where so many share the same fears that her own father and grandparents must have felt? Ah, the power of Theater! For as thrilling as it can be to take in a Broadway-type production at the Fisher or the Fox, it’s as much a joy to attend a tiny little theater like the Matrix, not much further away. And let’s face it, they need our patronage even more than these “big” shows do. Without our support, how will they continue to present such wonderful stories?