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STAGE REVIEW

This ‘Ride’ lacks personal touch

CHRISTOPHER MCKENZIE Adrianne Krstansky performs Lisa Kron’s autobiographical “2.5 Minute Ride.’’
CHRISTOPHER MCKENZIE
Adrianne Krstansky performs Lisa Kron’s autobiographical “2.5 Minute Ride.’’ (Christopher Mckenzie
)
By Sandy MacDonald
Globe Correspondent / October 10, 2009

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WATERTOWN - Isn’t there something intrinsically secondhand and second best about one actor performing another’s autobiographical solo show? Assuming that the author (unlike, say, Spalding Gray) is still on hand to do the honors him- or herself, wouldn’t you prefer to hear it from the source?

In “2.5 Minute Ride,’’ now at New Repertory Theatre, Adrianne Krstansky stands in for Lisa Kron, who in this early monologue (it premiered in 1999, seven years before Kron’s Broadway hit “Well’’) masterfully interweaves three very personal stories. There’s an annual family outing to the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, where her aging, ailing father enjoys the death-defying roller coaster rides; her earlier visit with him to Auschwitz, where his parents died; and her brother’s impending nuptials - the result of an online romance - at a tacky Jewish wedding hall in Brooklyn.

The script ranges from fond if semi-exasperated critiques of Kron’s peculiar family members (one aunt carries cold breakfast sausages in her purse to fend off hunger pangs on the midway) to throat-grippingly tragic moments (Auschwitz gets to Kron, despite her worst fear: that she’d feel nothing), and the jump-cut turnabouts are tricky to carry off.

However, the borrowed nature of this exercise means that despite Krstansky’s best efforts, there’s an inevitable undercurrent of disbelief. These, after all, are not her memories that she’s getting all verklempt about. When Krstansky-as-Kron at one point pauses, protesting that she’s too overwhelmed to go on, the moment is one of pure phoniness. Of course she’ll somehow continue and deliver: That’s what she has contracted to do - unlike Kron herself, who might very well have given a convincing impression that she was momentarily overcome.

The “outsider’’ angle also presents a problem of tone. Whereas Kron might, with impunity, describe her family members as being all, in some way, “crippled’’ (demurring that she knows the term is non-PC), the label just seems mean coming from a further remove. In Krstansky’s handling, in fact, much of the commentary comes across as overly sardonic. Not enough tenderness peeks through, until the very end, when she turns it on full-blast, to a manipulative extreme.

Kron frames her narrative as a family-history slide show with an intriguing twist: The projections that she points to and explicates in detail are all blank, as if to allow the audience members to insert their own imagery. Unfortunately, in this reconstituted version of the play, the staging device merely serves to underscore the fact that there’s no there there. Krstansky might appropriate Kron’s text and the emotions that go with it, but she can’t very well lay claim to Kron’s real-life family, so there’s a nagging disconnect.

In only one segment does Krstansky truly seem to inhabit a character, and that scene proved a puzzler. As she portrayed a refugee turned postwar interrogator questioning a Nazi collaborator, I wondered: Where did this intriguing Simone Signoret figure come from? Apparently Kron’s intent was to duplicate her father’s reminiscences, but in Krstansky’s handling there was little clue as to the speaker’s identity. It - or rather, he - bore no resemblance, in accent or bearing, to earlier impersonations.

This presumptive tour de force requires a few too many leaps of faith. Kron’s journey is indeed staggering, but you won’t get the full effect by going along for this ride.

2.5 MINUTE RIDE Play by Lisa Cron

Directed by: M. Bevin O’Gara. Set, Jarrod Bray. Lights, Caleb Magoon. Costumes, Seth Bodie.

At: New Repertory Theatre, Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown, through Oct. 24. Tickets: $25. 617-923-8487, www.newrep.org

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