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'Ride' a Caravan of Family Outings

Theater review: Lisa Kron's personal stories involve reunions at an amusement park, a New York wedding and at Auschwitz, Poland.

June 02, 1997|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lisa Kron describes three family get-togethers in her "2.5 Minute Ride," a powerfully crafted monologue presented over the weekend at UCLA's Freud Playhouse.

Two of the reunions are primarily with her mother's family. Each year they take a car caravan from their Michigan homes to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio--where, despite heat, old age and infirmity, members of the group ride daredevil roller coasters and eat hamburgers at 10 a.m. Kron also relates the story of the biggest family event in years--when her brother married his "Internet bride" at a hall in New York.

The third gathering is entirely different. Seven years ago, she and her father visited Auschwitz, where his parents had been killed. It's the closest that Kron ever came to attending a reunion on her father's side.

Kron switches from story to story, often without a break. Occasionally, you think she's in Cedar Point, when suddenly you realize she's back in Auschwitz. Kron expresses her longing to make the experiences cohere. If only Poland could be an amusement park called Polish-Land instead of the real thing, she muses.

A few times, however, the boundaries between the stories are clearly marked. At one point, she plays her father as he recalls an experience shortly after the war, when he was a military interrogator and prosecutor of suspected war criminals. He found a common bond with one of the former Gestapo officers, realizing that they had grown up in the same culture and that only by "the good fortune" of her father's Jewishness had he escaped this other man's now-dire fate.

If this indicates that her father has an extraordinary ability to reflect on life's ironies, Kron appears to have inherited the trait. Yet she doesn't take the stage in order to pontificate about it. She speaks with an unassuming air that's extremely listener-friendly and that arouses howls of laughter, at least in the American chapters. Designer Susan A. White provides helpful light patterns that help Kron depict her state of mind.

Kron also illustrates her stories with elaborate descriptions of family photos, using a light pointer to pick out specific details--and yet she's pointing at a blank canvas of white light. She lets us fill in the details from our imaginations.

This is an especially appropriate visual joke because, as she later tells us, her mother allowed no one to take her picture for 30 years, finally breaking the rule only for the big wedding.

So Kron's images of her mother are primarily mental, not photos that can be held. And of course her father's family also exists primarily as a memory, not as people whose lives were meticulously recorded on film.

The show has undergone some changes since its premiere at La Jolla Playhouse last year. Peg Healey and Dan Hurlin are now the "directorial consultants" instead of original director Lowry Marshall. Judging from reports of the La Jolla script, dream sequences have been trimmed.

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