In the 1990s, the drama “Ambition Facing West,” and the comedy “Over the River and Through the Woods” had East Coast premieres within a year of each other. Each tussles with the familial repercussions of immigration. The former with glimmers of wry observation. The latter with fairly familiar gags that give way to tender wisdom.
* * * ½ Drama
Joe DiPietro’s “Over the River” is midway through an affable production by the Cherry Creek Theatre Company.
Thanks to the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, Anthony Clarvoe’s play is getting an overdue regional premiere at Boulder’s Dairy Center.
“Ambition” comes freighted with ideas yet moves with steady clarity (even as it loops back), tracing a family’s sojourn from early 20th-century Croatia to a mining town in Wyoming in the 1940s to Japan in the ’80s.
Under the well-paced guidance of director Stephen Weitz, the cast is fit for the journey.
The play is anchored by a nuanced performance by Chris Kendall.
Make that performances. With the exception of John Hauser, who portrays the yearning Croatian lad Stipan, all the actors play more than one character. The overlaps have their own potency. For instance, Casey Andree is both a priest in Croatia and a lapsed Catholic on leave from Southern Methodist University practicing Zen in Japan.
Kendall does deft work as the returning immigrant — or Amerikanac — who tempts Stipan’s westward dreams. If his Ivo Pasic, sounds a bit like “evil passage,” that’s certainly how Stipan’s mother, Marija (Haley Johnson) sizes him up.
Kendall also plays adult Stipan, a trade unionist in Wyoming. Landlocked, he lives with wife Josephina (Karen LaMoureaux) and their only child, Alma (Adrian Egolf).
It was not entirely persuasive that the whipsmart Alma grows into the sardonic, cigarette-smoking, single mother and businesswoman Johnson portrays her as.
Alma has been through a divorce. Her emotional armor could be the necessary uniform of a Westerner and female negotiator in the world of Japanese business culture. We get the edge but wanted more subtlety.
Johnson does double duty as mothers trying to corral their son’s desires or in the case of Alma’s seemingly aimless son, Joey (Benjamin Bonenfant), a lack of ambition.
The grandson of Stipan listens to his Walkman while playing with his Game Boy while clad in a blazer with rolled up sleeves … la “Miami Vice.” A humorous scene has him failing a dare to be still. Yet he makes a decision in Japan that challenges his family’s history of motion.
Bonenfant overstates Joey’s restlessness some. But his depiction of young Alma’s suitor, Jim, speaks painful truths about America’s European immigrants during WWII.
There’s some lovely poetry in Clarvoe’s writing, which Weitz and lighting designer Andrew Metzroth set up beautifully.
A gong sounds in Japan, calling Alma to a memory. Across the stage Young Stipan runs. A bell rings. Josephina enters limping. A bell rings, Young Alma runs off.
“A cave-in was like Halloween in reverse: ghosts inside the house and kids bringing food to the doorstep,” recalls Alma.
A low wooden platform, with a rectangle cut into it and a shallow pool of water hint at oceans traversed. A gravel expanse at the front of the set stands in for a Zen rock garden but also perhaps the wind-blasted, hardscrabble terrain of Wyoming.
Tina Anderson‘s set, like Clarvoe’s play, allows for restless motion even as it encourages vital stillness.
Lisa Kennedy: 303-954-1567, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/bylisakennedy