Chicago Theater Review: SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE (Flat Iron Arts Building in Chicago)

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by Tony Frankel on April 24, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


The setting for Dan LeFranc’s Sixty Miles to Silver Lake is the front seat of a car. Ky (Sean Bolger) has picked up his son Denny (Ethan Dubin) from a soccer game, as he does every weekend, to drive sixty miles on the Golden State Freeway to Silver Lake, near downtown Los Angeles, where Ky has purchased a new home after a nasty divorce from Denny’s mom. The resentful Ky actually grills his teenage son about mom’s employment problems, when Ky himself is behind in child support. In the Chicago premiere by Collaboraction, the two characters remain seated and talk for 80 minutes.

Sixty Miles to Silverlake-Flat Iron-Collaboraction-Chicago Review by Tony FrankelFrom the start, LeFranc’s naturalistic dialogue perfectly captures the emotional gulf between these two, resulting in arguments and disagreements over everything from In-N-Out Burgers to the music on the radio to Ky’s Christian girlfriend. Early on, when the boy scribbles a Figure 8 into his vaporized breath on the passenger window, another Figure 8 appears on two screens above the actors’ heads. The assumption was that the playwright was going to examine the futility of father-son relationships, and the way a dad and his boy spend their lives circling around each other, rarely meeting in the middle. Instead, the playwright himself goes around in circles in a quasi-memory play that moves back and forth in time, ultimately driving us nowhere.

Sixty Miles to Silverlake-Flat Iron-Collaboraction-Chicago Review by Tony FrankelWe suspect that this will be no ordinary drive when dialogue begins repeating itself. The director, Sarah Moeller, notes in the program that “as the play goes on we begin to see the trip from Denny’s recollections of his drives with his dad.” While it’s true that the father’s dialogue ultimately contains repetitive gibberish (“wakka-wakka-wakka”), and dialogue between the two occasionally plays on the radio, the spectator is never quite sure what is going on. Moeller makes use of multi-media, such as projections of stars in the universe or blazing-red lighting during an argument, but that only further adds confusion as to the proceedings. Even if the viewer suspects that it is Denny’s memory play, the repetitive dialogue becomes mind-numbing and, by forty-five minutes into the play, somewhat irritating. In addition, the boy begins to question his dad’s erratic driving and, with a look of terror, says, “I’m scared.” It’s a playwright’s trick, designed to fool the audience. For now we wonder if they have been in an accident and this is the afterlife (why else would there be projections of the heavens?)

Because we are not on board with what exactly is happening, the speedy resolve at the end falls flat: father and son, who have not been getting along for the entire play, literally pull the car apart, set aside the pieces, laugh as they kick around a soccer ball, and then embrace as the lights go down. Huh?

Sixty Miles to Silverlake-Flat Iron-Collaboraction-Chicago Review by Tony FrankelWith Sean Bolger’s unsympathetic portrayal, we sense mostly discomfort and awkwardness in Ky, but not a sense of love for his child. That may be how Denny recollects it, this being a memory play, but it makes the ending that much more incongruous. As the awkward teen, Ethan Dubin is a revelation, eerily embodying every bit of unease and testosterone-ridden restlessness befitting a boy of his age. Reminiscent of actor Daniel Stern, Dubin’s extraordinary reactions – sighs, eye-rolling – elicited laughs from the audience that this dreary experience sorely needed. He is an exciting presence on the stage and most definitely an actor to watch. (His behavior as that of a 10-year-old was very similar to his 15-year-old, but that is a directorial note.)

Sixty Miles to Silverlake-Flat Iron-Collaboraction-Chicago Review by Tony FrankelThe design team added a dimension to the proceedings that enhanced the stagnancy of the staging: Liviu Pasare’s multi-media video design included moving pavement beneath the car; Mac Vaughey’s lighting and Cristina De Risi’s sound effectively assisted in the shifting of time and space; and Lizzie Bracken’s open-air car looked as uncomfortable as the relationship inside of it – that the car turned out to be interlocking pieces was a commendable surprise.

Sixty Miles to Silverlake-Flat Iron-Collaboraction-Chicago Review by Tony FrankelSixty Miles to Silver Lake uses a time-warped device to tell a father/son story, but instead of supporting the story, it sacrifices the storytelling itself. The eventual discovery that this is not a linear tale does not enhance our experience in the way that Pinter does. There are too many unanswered questions that keep us emotionally detached. The director and playwright may have known the answers, but if the audience is not on board, the play ends up being a long drive to nowhere.

For Stage and Cinema’s review of Sixty Miles at SoHo Rep, click here.

photos by Saverio Truglia

Sixty Miles to Silver Lake
Collaboraction at the Flat Iron Arts Building in Chicago
scheduled to end on May 27
for tickets, call 312.226.9633 or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

{ 1 comment }

Art Holmberg May 4, 2012 at 9:41 pm

It was awful!

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