Review: ‘The Way West’ at Marin Theatre Company (**1/2)

by Charles Kruger
Rating: **1/2

(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Anne Darragh, Kathryn Zdan, and Rosie Hallett as a family under stress in Marin Theatre Company's west coast premiere of "The Way West" by Mona Mansour. Photo Credit: Marin Theatre Company.
Anne Darragh, Kathryn Zdan, and Rosie Hallett as a family under stress in Marin Theatre Company’s west coast premiere of “The Way West” by Mona Mansour. Photo Credit: Marin Theatre Company.
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Mona Mansour definitely has something important to say about American culture with “The Way West.”

The family depicted in this western comedy is definitely headed into the sunset. Mom is facing bankruptcy, is a serial car-crasher, and is suffering from a mysterious paralysis. Daughter Manda has come to help out, but is herself hanging on to security by her fingernails. Younger daughter Meesh is surviving by running scams on E-Bay and playing fast and loose with Mom’s money. Neighbor Tress has persuaded Mom to invest thousands of dollars into her shady weight-loss business, which is being shut down by the authorities. Things don’t look good.

But Mom, the relentless optimist, can see no problems. Her confidence is perfectly awe inspiring, and she stubbornly refuses to recognize anything but good news. As disaster after disaster strikes, she gathers her children to regale them with inspiring stories from the days of the pioneers, each more ridiculous and less believable than the last.

It is not difficult to grasp the playwright’s point. Americans were able to conquer the West by virtue of  pioneer grit and optimism, but plenty of folks died along the way. It may have been “the way West” geographically, but, psycologically, foolish optimism in the face of decline may be “the way West” metaphorically as well, as the American century sinks below the world horizon.

The play is an excellent showcase for  four actresses, and Anne Darragh, Rosie Hallett, Stacy Ross, and Kathryn Zdan make a lot of it. Their performances are strong, true-to-life and full of depth and insight. The single male performer, Hugo E. Carbajal, in the dual rules of Luis and the Pizza Delivery Guy, is also quite good.

In spite of many fine details — interesting staging, excellent acting, a superb set by Geoffrey M. Curley — this production never quite reaches its comic potential. In material that calls for the sort of broad overplaying and ridiculous exaggeration suitable for sketch comedy, the director seems to have opted for a more realistic approach.  This has the advantage (not to be sneezed at) of emphasizing the serious political and cultural analysis that informs the play, but it also has the flatness of everday reality where it could be over-the-top funny.

This is a good production that features some fine acting and a thoughtful approach to the material, but it left this reviewer imagining what might have been.

“The Way West” plays at the Boyer Theatre through May 10. For further information click here.

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“The Way West” by Mona Mansour, produced by Marin Theatre Company. Director: Hayley Finn. Scenic Designer: Geoffrey M. Curley. Lighting Designer: Masha Tsimring. Costume Designer: Christine Crook. Sound Designer: Brendan Aanes. Composers/Music Directors: Sam Misner & Megan Pearl Smith.

Mom: Anne Darragh. Meesh: Rosie Hallett. Manda: Kathryn Zdan. Tress: Stacy Ross. Luis/Pizza delivery guy: Hugo E. Carbajal.

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