‘Kayak’ at The Matrix explores generational conflict and the future of the world
Any parent with a child graduating high school or entering college knows that there is much that separates them. It could be politics, music, environment, pop culture, social media habits, or all of the above. And God knows, the choice of a significant other (by child or parent0 can cause jealousies and separation.
Such is the stuff of Kayak, a play by Jordan Hall now being produced at The Matrix Theatre in Detroit.
Kez Settle is Annie, a 50’ish, Mother who spends most of the play perched in and paddling a kayak in the middle of the Matrix performance area, surrounded on three sides by patrons. She chronicles a story about her son, Peter (Dan Johnson), and his girlfriend Julie (Claire Jolliffe), and their relationship, which clearly stresses her. Julie is a radical, full-time environmental justice protester, and the besotted Peter is a business major studying under his parents’ wishes that he join his father’s firm upon graduation.
Clearly, Annie’s story-telling, with Peter and Julie acting out scenes from Annie’s memory, is retrospective and we have the feeling, if not the knowledge, that something bad has happened to Peter. His appearances feel haunting, and from the start his and Julie’s scenes are building toward something. And, of course, we are faced with Settle’s Annie in a kayak with a malfunctioning GPS.
The truth is that there are two connected stories happening in kayak. Hall’s story, which definitely has an element of the fantastic as it builds to the climax in this taut 65 minute play, still manages to keep its feet on the ground while it stays true to its core. It’s a story about relationships among people who love one another. And as we know, those can be complicated and difficult.
Kez Settle has a remarkable manner in her portrayal of Annie. Hall’s dialogue is excellent, which helps, but Settle’s acting is so true, so seamless and real. With the lion’s share of lines in this play, actors playing Annie can easily seem artificial and over-acting. Not here. Settle is natural and captivating, and delivers the comedic lines as beautifully as the ones that are worrisome, pregnant with dread and anguished.
Dan Johnson is a fine young actor who plays Peter evenly, divided between his love of the life he has enjoyed in the comfortable suburbs, and his love of Julie who challenges his conscience and touches his heart. Ms. Joliffe inhabits Julie with vigor and angry energy, and with defensive but genuine love of Peter despite the fact that he does not check all her boxes for being a soldier for justice.
The set design by Charlie Gaidica begs a few questions not easily answered. The backdrop of the stage are fishnets, and we find, for example, Julie and Peter weaving a red ribbon through the net at various times in the story. Directed by Amanda Grace Ewing, I am also not sure why Julie is doing yoga lunges at different times of the story. Not every detail has to be obviously explained in a play, and leaving questions for the audience is not necessarily a bad thing.
Kayak is a story that will leave many a parent nodding in recognition, worrying about the last thing they said to their child and maybe questioning how they are managing the differences between themselves and their maturing kids. A play that makes you think is a good thing. That’s why we write them.