Plenty of people and celebrities have starred in live events based on their lives. Everyone from Billy Crystal and John Leguizamo to Mike Tyson were involved with plays where they portrayed themselves.
Before writing the book and lyrics to the Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home, Lisa Kron had grown a following after she wrote and performed in stories about her past. At the Diversionary Theatre, two of Kron’s comedy-dramas are running in repertory and, unlike in the original productions, local actresses depict the openly lesbian writer/actress.
2.5 Minute Ride (her dramedy that premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse) follows Lisa’s (Shana Wride) attempts to make a documentary about her German Jewish Holocaust-survivor father, Walter Kron. She shares anecdotes, including several about his childhood and their trip to Auschwitz. That might sound like an emotionally draining experience, but both amusing and serious tales about her family and Walter are mixed in the one-woman show.
Lisa (Samantha Ginn) describes Well as “a multicharacter theatrical exploration of issues of health and illness both in the individual and in a community.” Her complicated description is not what her script is actually about. The plot really revolves around Lisa’s relationship with her sick mother, Ann Kron (Annie Hinton). She admires her mom’s accomplishments as a community activist who fought for racial equality but, at the same time, she is angered by Ann’s declining health.
When two stagings are produced at the same time, one is often significantly better than the other. That’s not the case at the University Heights theatrical space. 2.5 Minute Ride and Well are funny, relatable and deeply sincere.
The true stories are thematically similar, but both are stylistically different experiences. 2.5 Minute Ride is the much more straightforward evening.
Rosina Reynolds’s direction is focused on the text and Wride’s acting capability. Although Reynolds’ storytelling may appear low-key, every choice that she and Wride make feels significant. Something as simple as Wride taking off a pair of glasses or sitting in a chair adds depth to the interpretation.
Reynolds plays up the comedic moments, but also allows serious situations to resonate, and neither she nor Wride nor Kron downplay the tragedy and consequences of the Holocaust.
In contrast, director Kym Pappas envisions Well as a fantastical narrative. Kron’s script reminds audiences that they are watching entertainment as all the characters break the fourth wall. In a surreal choice, Pappas has Adam Cuppy, Cashae Monya, Durwood Murray and Tiffany Tang playing themselves, in addition to several primarily funny supporting roles (Kate Bishop’s costumes do a clever job of differentiating the men and women they portray).
Sean Fanning’s set is unearthly – the left side of the stage represents Ann’s house, while the right side is almost completely devoid of detail.
There is never a point where the offbeat style ever feels weird for the sake of being weird. In fact, the unusual aspects about Well gently poke fun at avant-garde and theatrical conventions. Even Curtis Mueller’s lighting isn’t taken completely seriously when Lisa attempts to speak to theatregoers using interior monologues.
Melanie Chen’s audio enhances flashbacks with songs like “Rumors” and “Superstition” playing in the background.
Neither Wride or Ginn physically resemble each other or Kron, but they go through a variety of emotions. The performers make all of their jokes land, and also sell powerful sequences.
Hinton’s acting in Well will connect with anyone who ever had to take care of an older parent or relative. She realistically switches back and forth between periods of physical weakness and unexpected intelligence.
The main reason that Kron’s writing resonates with audiences is because her prose deals with the importance of family. It’s not really a spoiler to say that Lisa’s bonds with her parents are enriched by the time the narratives are over.
Both 2.5 Minute Ride and Well can be watched in any order, but the former is the better choice to see first. It’s clear that Ann has changed significantly in the period between the autobiographical plays. There are also a couple of ironic lines in Well that add a bigger impact if 2.5 Minute Ride is viewed beforehand.
The Kron Repertory uses different forms of storytelling and blends genres to compassionately explore family connections. This is a perfect way to get introduced to Kron as an artist.