Unhelpfully prolific American playwright Steven Dietz never met a promising idea he couldn’t muddle. In this 2013 play, which Promethean Theatre Ensemble is now giving only its second production, he offers up teen buddies Danny (Pat King) and Rich (Michael Vizzi), dawdling about Kimball, Nebraska, in 1949. They’re meant to be swept up in the yearning, freewheeling energy of the nascent Beat Generation, personified in Honey (Hilary Williams), a young woman pausing in Kimball on her way westward in search of her dead mother’s spirit and the Bop. Strategically, Danny and Rich have also each lost a parent; in Dietz’s world of easy signifiers, the mere fact of parental loss is apparently meant to do all the heavy lifting a better playwright might do to dramatize a character’s existential anguish.
So when Danny and Rich jump in the car and head west, their journey provides more opportunities for Dietz to wax metaphorical on American culture (we’re all “tangled up in roads,” whatever that means) than to develop his characters into more than two dimensions. His eagerness to embrace the Beats’ penchant for nonlinearity only results in a second act that can’t decide what it’s about.
It’s a shame, because the first act contains some of Dietz’s most delicate, elliptical writing that nicely captures the despair prowling just below our midwestern pluck, setting up what should be an epic saga. Director Jess Hutchinson’s cast teases out sweet and desperate nuances in these opening scenes, but all that potential is squandered in a journey that goes nowhere. v