Eloise & Ray, Roadworks Productions, at the Chopin Theatre. Is there a more powerful metaphor for the longings and frustrations of adolescence than the big skies and desolate beauty of the American west? And if so, could someone please share it with Stephanie Fleischmann?
In her torturously wordy, ponderously symbolic exploration of a teenage girl’s coming-of-age, Fleischmann misses no opportunity to flog every last cliche about the west. We get the bad-boy horseman who awakens the heroine’s slumbering passions–and harbors a Dark Secret. We get dirt and sky and bright stars and rain and scarred wooden doors and boozing. The playwright also throws in an older brother who disappeared years before, an emotionally shut-down offstage father, and the father’s mysterious blond floozy of a girlfriend, known as the Actress (Jacquelyn Flaherty). Her artificial posturings stand in marked contrast to Eloise’s grubby child/woman tomboy (played by Laura Scheinbaum as if she were channeling Jodie Foster’s wild child Nell).
Kim Rubinstein’s production provides some gorgeous stage pictures, aided by Logan Kibbens’s adept video design evoking the wide-open spaces of Ovid, Colorado–a real place obviously chosen for its symbolic name: this is a play about transformation, get it? Danny McCarthy brings some welcome wit and nuance to the smitten yet emotionally stunted character of Ray, but Rubinstein’s staging is so deliberately presentational and faux poetic that the relationship between 28-year-old Ray and 16-year-old Eloise is neither disturbing nor poignant–just dull.