San Francisco Theater Review: ANOTHER WAY HOME (Magic Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on November 14, 2012

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


When Anna Ziegler’s world premiere play Another Way Home began, it seemed that the thrust of the play would revolve around Joey (Daniel Petzold), a 17-year-old spending the summer as a Counselor-in-Training at Camp Kickapoo in Maine. When his Jewish, upper middle-class parents Philip (Mark Pinter) and Lillian (Kim Martin-Cotten) show up (having driven 500 miles to spend an afternoon with their boy), the teen is astoundingly hostile, and shows signs of rage that are startling to behold. Since the start of the play, the parents address the audience directly; soon, Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Review of Another Way Home at Magic Theatre in San Franciscothey inform us that Joey “isn’t an easy kid” with “lots of ‘social’ issues.” The boy has been diagnosed with ADD, then ADHD, then autism, then mood disorder, then anxiety disorder, then oppositional defiant disorder and depression.

These disorders seem to be more and more prevalent in America, and I was champing at the bit to see how this near-suicidal teen got to be where he is, and how his family has to deal with an infuriating and frustrating situation. But 10 minutes into the 80-minute one-act, it’s clear that Ziegler’s play doesn’t really have a protagonist: Joey has a terrible row with his parents and runs off into the woods, leaving both the parents to bicker and the audience to try and figure out what this play is about. The skin-deep characters of Joey’s younger sister back home, the well-behaved Nora (Riley Krull), and Joey’s bunkmate and camp counselor Mike (Jeremy Kahn) serve as information-divulging devices, and add nothing more in the way of conflict. In between moments of self-realization and mini-confessionals for all the characters, they are almost profoundly self-aware — there really is very little for them to discover.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Review of Another Way Home at Magic Theatre in San FranciscoIt’s a shame to report that the script is quite amateurish, neither getting at universal truths, nor scratching the surface about how families communicate. I don’t remember the last time that I heard so much dialogue that has characters commenting on the situation they’re in. It truly is a head-scratcher why the Magic would have chosen this play. No doubt there is a great base of a story here, and the playwright may have an ear for realistic dialogue, especially with the teenagers, but she is not an original voice for the theater. The fourth-wall breaking device smacks of Six Degrees of Separation, and the pat “accepting what is” commentary feels like Thornton Wilder without the depth; Ms. Ziegler is attempting to find the common threads of humanity, but she wears them on her sleeve.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Review of Another Way Home at Magic Theatre in San FranciscoAlso perplexing is Meredith McDonough’s astoundingly uninventive direction. There are consistently missed opportunities for the family to be blocked in a way that represents their relationship. Right at the top, Philip and Lillian address the audience in this thrust theater standing side-by-side, which means two-thirds of the house gets a profile shot of one actor, when we need to be immediately engaged by the tenuous marital dance at hand. Up center on Annie Smart’s handsome set of wood and glass is a playing area that is not only under-utilized, but has characters blocked by two large poles stage left and right. The Magic has been challenged before to make use of the thrust space, but aren’t directors supposed to walk around during rehearsals to ensure that there aren’t sight-line problems? (I’m sure that the folks sitting center had a grand view, not that it ultimately mattered.)

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema Review of Another Way Home at Magic Theatre in San FranciscoBoth Petzold and Kahn shine as the young men. Petzold in particular gains our empathy as a teen provocateur stuck in a cloud of fury when he desires to connect. We never buy the WASPish Pinter and Martin-Cotten as Jewish: he delivers many lines with the syntax of a detached news reporter or journalist, and she seems to strain to discover emotion, wearing a troubled frown like a mask, and anticipating every moment, coming off like a stand-in for Annette Bening.

I honestly love what Ms. Ziegler is attempting. She wants to use the theater as a discourse about what it means to be a family — but it seems that the playwright got lost in the woods of her own desire.

photos by Jennifer Reily

Another Way Home
Magic Theatre in Fort Mason
ends on December 2, 2012
for tickets, call 415-441-8822 or visit Magic Theatre

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