Into the Wild
by Sally Mitani
A little shorty of a play at Purple Rose clocking in at an hour and fifteen minutes, no intermission, is for all its brevity a hefty piece. You know how one-acts sometimes seem so light and trivial that they don't demand much of your attention? Or they're so weird and experimental that you feel you've done your bit just by showing up? Neither is the case here.
Designer Vincent Mountain's towering, moist glen in northern California--with steam rising and luminous green moss creeping over everything--is the setting for the late Lanford Wilson's (Hot l Baltimore) 1993 play, which opens with a confrontation between a feral Vietnam vet named Lyman (Alex Leydenfrost) and a clever and city-pampered teenage hiker named Geri (Rainbow Dickerson).
At the time the play was written, the redwood forests around Eureka were host to a number of traumatized Vietnam vets who would come down from the woods to lurk around the coffee shops, cadge a few supplies, and disappear again. Geri has followed this one into the woods and whines around him like a mosquito, pelting him with questions. She thinks he may be her father.
He may or may not be, and I won't give away the secret, but I will say that it's not a slobbery, sentimental Hallmark-card story. The plot is rich with unpredictability, but Wilson is a good storyteller who can whack a strong path through a thicket of his own creation.
The silver-haired, debonair Leydenfrost makes a surprisingly believable vagrant, and Michelle Mountain is fine, as usual, in the piece's third role--an aunt, who is mainly needed to help unpack a lot of the dense narrative. Dickerson takes on the complicated role of a half-Vietnamese girl adopted into a wealthy Caucasian California family who develops into a musical prodigy. I want to say that for a lot of this play, I questioned what seemed to be her limited range--method, shmethod, she was too much like a real teenager, with only two notes: the monotonous whine and the screaming, melodramatic temper tantrum. And I also questioned (still do, actually) why Wilson felt he also needed to give her paranormal powers. And yet, when she takes the last scene to its climax in a kind of remarkable incantation, all bets are off. It's a great moment of theater.
The play runs through March 15.
[Originally published in March, 2014.]