Mike Price, Kelly Kapp, & Abbey Braune in rehearsal with director Natalie Fields (back to camera). Photo: DCP
On The Road With Bernice and Robin
By Brian Walker
Directed by Natalie Fields
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The Road Trip Across America is a rich and diverse sub-genre of storytelling, an offshoot of the European picaresque form. Characters forced together for 24 hours a day in cars, restaurants, and motel rooms always provide a fertile incubator for human drama.
Brian Walker has visited this structure before with High Tide (2016), and, as he did in that play, he makes his story all about family. Bernice (Kelly Kapp) and her daughter Robin (Abby Braune) leave their home in Louisville Kentucky to tour a selection of zoos in Oklahoma City, El Paso, Phoenix, and San Diego and beyond. They are searching for a drawing from Robin’s childhood that was selected for an exhibit that toured zoos throughout the United States.
What the drawing means to Robin is a mystery, but she has just lost her job and seems a bit untethered. So Bernice takes her on a journey that will prove liberating for them both. It begins with a visit with a skeezy Louisville Zoo administrator (an indispensable Mike Price) that one hopes is not based on anyone in real-life although it probably is.
The mother-daughter conflict on display throughout is identifiable even while it courts cliché. The tension from that balance is key to establishing the play’s dynamic relationship with the audience. Walker’s way with building character tempts an assumption of autobiography, but he also seems to relish the feminist aspect of the two women’s adventure and deconstructs their relationship like a master craftsman.
Director Natalie Fields stages the action as an opportunity for the actors, and they respond nicely. Abbey Braune reveals the well of desperation at the heart of Robin; her eyes deeply unsettled, while Kelly Kapp channels every overbearing mother in literary history as Bernice, although she finds plenty of individual detail to make the character her own.
Mike Price plays several bits and pieces with adroit broad strokes but has the opportunity to also inhabit the unusual Zoo Bandit, a Texas rancher with a soft spot for prairie dogs and weary travelers on a righteous mission. Price abandons the slapstick to underplay this man with an easy, laid back grace.
Walker also interpolates brief flashbacks to capture some of Bernice and Robin’s history, and by the time he reaches his satisfactory conclusion, we have been brought fully into their life together.
The only drawbacks were the low rent props and signage that kept falling off of wherever they were placed. Small but distracting glitches that felt doubly unfortunate with actors doing such good work. The transition of music could also stand to be louder.
As a playwright, Walker has a reputation for adult sexual themes, and while he hasn’t forsaken the carnal urges in his more recent work, here as in High Tide he focuses on family structures where the father is absent and the mother occupies a central role. Perhaps On The Road With Bernice and Robin reinforces a new period in his work, perhaps not, but either way, we should be intrigued to see what comes next.
On The Road With Bernice and Robin
July 14 @ 5:30pm
July 19 @ 7:30pm
July 21 @ 8:00pm
July 27 @ 8:00pm
Part of the 2nd Derby City Playwrights New Play Festival
For a full schedule of all seven plays, visit: derbycityplaywrights.org
Advanced Tickets: $18 / At the door: $20
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.