Sally Wingert brings a sustained burst of energy to Minnesota Jewish Theatre Co.’s production ofÂ 2.5 Minute RideÂ
ByÂ DORIS RUBENSTEIN
The 2.5-minute ride that playwright Lisa Kron describes in her play of the same name is actually a roller coaster. The audience watching the play, though, is also treated to a roller coaster of numerous emotional highs and a few lows in the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s production now on stage at St. Paul’s Hillcrest Theater.
Taking us on this ride is Lisa, performed with stunning range and energy by the always amazing Sally Wingert. From the play’s first moment, Lisa (both playwright and character) wordlessly asks the audience members to use their imaginations to fill in the images that should inhabit a slide-show screen, requiring them to go beyond the usual voluntary suspension of disbelief that is inherent in plays and movies.
The images are familiar ones: family members together at a regular happy gathering — in this case, the annual excursion to Cedar Point, an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, that is a destination for many Ohioans, Michiganders and Pennsylvanians. (We Minnesotans might liken it to the annual State Fair pilgrimage.) It is at Cedar Point that the heart-stopping 2.5-minute ride awaits the fool or thrill-seeker. The thrill lasts but for a couple of moments and must be repeated to regain the feeling.
Recalling the emotions associated with the excitement and obstacles of her Cedar Point adventures, Lisa links them to slides and stories illustrating a trip that she made with her Holocaust survivor father to his native town in Germany, and then to Auschwitz, where all of his family perished. It is at Auschwitz that Lisa, her father and a family friend along for the ride experience heart-stopping moments that await the fool, the thrill-seeker or the sincere pilgrim. Unlike the ride at Cedar Point, the emotional impact lasts a lifetime and is something that Lisa never wants to repeat.
The story progresses and the slides of these two trips alternate faster and faster, with occasional slides of other family simchas inserted from time to time for more comic relief and insight into the lives of this extended Midwestern Jewish family.
As the locations and dates of the slides change, the audience might find it difficult to keep up with where and when the story is, were it not for the outstanding lighting design by Jennifer DeGolier. DeGolier is also Wingert’s partner in transforming Lisa from her middle-aged, free-spirited self into whichever character she is portraying at that moment: father Walter, an oxygen-sniffing elderly aunt or the lively Irish-American sister of Lisa’s life partner.
Throughout all of this, Lisa maintains an affectionate, respectful attitude toward her father and all of the play’s characters as she describes and portrays them. She may not share her future sister-in-law’s Orthodox background, but she celebrates her brother’s happiness even as she pokes a little fun at the suppression ofÂ kol ishaÂ (the woman’s voice).Â Lisa marvels at her father’s emotional stability and his love of life despite his tremendous losses. He doesn’t suffer from survivor’s guilt and doesn’t expect Lisa to suffer for it either.
As Midwesterners, the MJTC audience can find much to identify with in many of the play’s references to our love for deep-fried, cheesy foods; the amazement we feel at our first East Coast wedding or Bar Mitzva with its over-the-top extravagancies that are frowned upon in our Scandinavian-influenced culture; and the various Jewish family stereotypes that still appear in plays and movies because they are true.
This production ofÂ 2.5 Minute RideÂ is worth seeing. It provides audience members with an additional 87.5 minutes of laughs, memories, ideas and stories that they will remember for an even longer time to come.
Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company will presentÂ 2.5 Minute RideÂ through May 10 at the Hillcrest Center in St. Paul’s Highland Park.