The cast of The Long Christmas Ride Home. Photo: Tom Fougerousse
The Long Christmas Ride Home
By Paula Vogel
Directed by Charles Nasby & Geoffrey Nelson
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Christmas. A time of family togetherness – that’s the tradition anyway. But Paula Vogel knows that the holidays are also a time in which long-simmering conflicts rise to the surface. In The Long Christmas Ride Home, she presents one family’s yuletide journey from home after a confrontational visit with one set of grandparents that leaves a very permanent residue.
Vogel is combining Eastern and Western stagecraft through a significant use of Bunraku puppetry and shifting perspectives that heighten the theatricality of the experience. The blocking and movement are ritualistic, focusing intention and allowing the audience some space around some very difficult truths.
Zach Stone and Lauren Dobbs play the Father and Mother, who move from omniscient narrators in the opening, to singular characters as the three children emerge. Rebecca, The Eldest Daughter (Bridget Kim), Claire, The Youngest Daughter (Bridget Thesing), and Stephen, Their Brother (Dylan Garrett), are portrayed by puppets in the central narrative, set in 1964, each operated by teams of three puppeteers, including the actors who step forward to play them as adults in heartbreaking flash-forward sequences set in the 1980’s in the second half. The puppeteers are Amy Davis, Megan Meyer, Lionel Nasby, Jane Park, Angela Swartz, and Will Thompson.
There are other puppets, including shadow play, and other human performers; Bailey Story is a convivial and progressive Universalist Minister, Adama Abramson plays both grandparents with impressive ease, and Michael Dorsey executes a vividly expressive, bravura dance towards the end.
Co-director Charles Nasby studied the Japanese Bunraku traditions as they have developed in Brazil, home of the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, and their use in this production is fascinating, but also essential in reinforcing Vogel’s Eastern philosophy sensibility, in which the characters speak of Ukiyo, “the floating world”, which can be interpreted as “sad, troubled world”.
A sound design is rendered by three musicians: Greg Byrne, Gabe Evens, & John Ritz. The pre-show portion was an Avant-garde deconstruction of Christmas Carols, and during the play, their work helped create a dread atmosphere, brilliantly merging music and sound effects. With the carefully judged vocalizations of the ensemble, it makes for a potent and unique aural experience.
Vogel’s play calls for all of this, but how many productions can manage such a range of elements with this much confidence? Which makes The Long Christmas Ride Home an important and worthwhile contribution to the Louisville theatre scene.
The Long Christmas Ride Home
April 13, 14, 19 & 20 @ 8:00pm
April 15, 21 & 22 @ 3:00pm
Tickets are $8 for UofL students; $12 for other students and alumni, faculty, staff and seniors; and $15 for general admission. Tickets available online at http://louisville.edu/theatrearts/productions or at the Box Office, open Monday-Friday 10am-4pm, 2314 S Floyd St
University of Louisville Dept of Theater Arts
2314 South Floyd Street
Louisville, KY 40292
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.