Two Mile Hollow - Apollinaire Theatre Company
Two Mile Hollow – Apollinaire Theatre Company
Review by James Wilkinson
Two Mile Hollow is presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company. Written by Leah Nanako Winkler. Directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques. Stage Manager/Choreographer Robin Mackey. Scenic Design: Nathan K. Lee. Costume Design: Susan Paino. Sound Design: David Reiffel.
The family patriarch is dead. In life, we’re told, he was a great man, but now he’s gone. The only physical likeness that we’ll get of him are the photographs that hang on the walls of the family homestead. His descendants and widow have descended upon the home to divide his possessions between them. In the process of gathering these family members together secrets are revealed, passions erupt and long-held grudges bubble to the surface. If this sounds familiar, it should. American playwrights from Eugene O’Neil, Tennessee Williams, Horton Foote, Sam Shepard, Tracy Letts and others have all been riffing on this general scenario in one form or another since the dawn of twentieth-century theatre. The gathering of disparate family members has become one of those boilerplate situations playwrights keep offering their own take on. It’s done partly because the scenario is perfectly designed for generating conflict, but it makes you wonder, what do audiences get out of it? Perhaps watching the explosions on stage confirm for us a sense of dread that’s felt if you get enough of your family members gathered in the same room, the feeling that this whole thing could go to hell at any moment.
In any case, given how many versions of this tale there are in American theatre (and culture), it takes a lot to pull anything new out of it. To answer that challenge, Apollinaire Theatre Company is offering audiences a fantastic production of playwright Leah Nanako Winkler’s Two Mile Hollow. The plot will sound very familiar. Eleven years after the death of the family patriarch, his children and widow have come to the titular Two Mile Hollow, the family seaside vacation home, to divvy up the contents of the house before selling it. It’s supposed to just be the family in attendance but son Christopher, a television actor, has brought his personal assistant, Charlotte, along with him. His mother, Blythe, doesn’t want the girl there. His brother, Joshua, quickly falls in love with Charlotte. His step-sister, Mary, seems to be barely holding on to her sanity and in moments of stress, pretends to be a seagull.
It all seems like paths we’ve traveled before (well, maybe not the seagull bit), but from the moment the lights come up at Chelsea Theatre Works, things at Two Mile Hollow just seem off. It has to do with the synthetic impossibly-blonde hair that the family members all sport. It has to do with the way characters keep mispronouncing common words, like “novel.” It has to do with the rush of words that vomit out of the character’s mouths while they’re telling a story. It has to do with the way those characters bounce between extreme emotions like they’re flipping a switch. There’s a hyper-reality at work at Two Mile Hollow that you’re unprepared for. Nathan K. Lee’s beautiful set design makes the stage looks like any beach house that you’d find along the coast, but the world of the characters inside this beach house is totally off kilter. Ten minutes into the show I found myself approaching the piece with a raised eyebrow, asking “Alright. Just where the hell are we going with this?”
It takes a while for that question to be answered because this is a production that draws you in by playing its cards very close to its chest. In the short term, the proceedings are all very funny, but it’s a strange sort of humor, one where the laugh lands a beat after the joke’s been said. Some audience members might not know how to take humor that doesn’t follow a set-up/punchline format (I, however, spent the entire evening snorting into my hand). The team of actors that director Danielle Fauteux Jacques has assembled are all approaching their characters with an eerie blankness to match their platinum blonde locks. You want to laugh, but you can’t be sure that there isn’t something sinister behind those eyes. There’s more than a bit of soap opera infused in the proceedings. At one point, when matriarch Blythe gazed toward her son and mentioned that he looked just like his father, I half expected them to start making out. That incestuous feeling creeps into the general atmosphere. The more time you spend with the central family, the more it seems that they exist in a bubble where they’ve been breathing the same oxygen for a bit too long. In one amusing scene, the family members are shocked to learn that people outside Two Mile Hollow know the song “Can’t Buy me Love.”
Eventually, the audience begins to align itself with Jasmine Brooks’ Charlotte, partly because she’s the most recognizably human. Brooks gives a great performance as the anchor for the audience to latch onto while Armando Rivera, Mauro Canepa, Christa Brown and Paola M. Ferrer all spin out into loopier territory. It’s a brilliant ensemble to watch play together.
What’s being examined in Winkler’s script isn’t so much character as it is the framework that allows the characters to exist. When I rattled off the playwrights who have covered this territory before, you may have noticed that they were all white men. Winkler herself is Japanese-American woman. The question for Winkler then is, how does she (or any person of color) fit into a genre whose parameters have always been dictated by white men? She doesn’t answer the question, (not that she needs to), but Two Mile Hollow acts as a call to arms to find those new frameworks for non-white artists and audiences.
Two Mile Hollow has an ideal home at Apollinaire Theatre Company. Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques has an eye and ear for ensemble pieces that’s on full display. It gives the production the pop you can feel in the play’s best moments. You might not know what you’re walking into when you enter Two Mile Hollow, but you’ll be remembering it for quite a while afterwards.
Two Mile Hollow is presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company at Chelsea Theatre Works December 21, 2018-January 20, 2019.