Theater Review: MOTHER ROAD (San Diego REP)

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by Milo Shapiro on October 13, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

ROUTE 66 WAS ONE MOTHER OF A ROAD

In John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath, we follow along Route 66 the sad travels of Tom Joad and his family, who flee the desperation of Oklahoma’s dustbowl calamity hoping for a safe farming life in California. In Octavio Solis’s Mother Road, there is one final Joad still living in Oklahoma 80 years later — Tom’s cousin William (Mark Murphy). He desperately wants to leave his now-fertile Oklahoma farm to kin. His search for relatives uncovers his only remaining blood relative, Tom’s great-grandson Martín (Richard Jessie Johnson), a half-Mexican former migrant worker in California. The play is the story of these two tremendously different men trying to find common ground as they travel Tom’s path backward to Oklahoma together.

Now at San Diego REP under Sam Woodhouse’s direction, the seven-actor ensemble plays numerous characters along the journey, even acting as a Greek chorus in action, words, and song (original music by Paul James Prendergast). The storytelling, while emotionally moving and fascinating throughout, is interrupted with dialogue that can feel like a tease, making surprises less compelling than they could have been. Likewise, one turn of events in Act II requires a huge stretch of willing suspension of disbelief not to pull back and think, “Really?” although it’s worth it for the outcome.

Still, viewers would be hard-pressed not to get caught up in this adventurous road trip; you’ll be rooting for these two well-intentioned men acting jointly to work through their demons. Heart and humor in the piece is elevated by Yadi Correa’s performance as Mo, Martín’s lesbian Mexican American cousin who is often a catalyst for understanding and growth in the two men.

photos by Rich Soublet

Mother Road
San Diego Repertory Theatre
Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza
ends on October 31, 2021
for tickets and schedule, call 619.544.1000 or visit SD Rep

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