Review: In 'California', a road trip and a detour into the darkness

Lizzie, who is 13 at the time of the trip, is joined by 14-year-old Tucker (Ethan Dubin) and 17-year-old Rob (Jordan Bellow) in the back ...


Lizzie, who is 13 at the time of the trip, is joined by 14-year-old Tucker (Ethan Dubin) and 17-year-old Rob (Jordan Bellow) in the back seat. The siblings take turns commentating on the action, and at first it looks like Harnetiaux is setting up a fun conventional memory piece peppered with nostalgic details: Rob is wearing a guyliner and a Cure t-shirt; the mother (Annie Henk) consults a paper map, before falling asleep under it; the father (Pete Simpson), in his plaid shirt, looks like a Trad Dad doll.

“California” is certainly fun, but unconventional, which comes as no surprise to Harnetiaux. She showed a flair for the dryly surreal in “Tin Cat Shoes” (2018), which premiered, like this new show, as part of Clubbed thumbfrom the Summerworks series (“What the Constitution Means to Me”, “Tumacho”). And his very funny multi-part podcast, “The MS Phoenix Rising” featured an experimental director attempting to stage the absurd in one act “The Chairs” by Eugène Ionesco aboard a cruise ship.

“California” is a particularly interesting showcase for non-sequences and dream logic, like when Mom starts humming nonsense words and Lizzie says, “Mom, this isn’t, like, a song.

“It’s possible,” replies his mother.

But as with “The Chairs,” which Ionesco described as a “tragic farce,” the show takes on a darker tone as unreliable narrators bend memory and reality into an ominous tangle of confusing timelines and alternate possibilities. The ground constantly moves away from the figures and the spectators.

Will Davis’ production is best when it evokes an ominous mood constantly overshadowed by death – predicted, remembered, evoked, imagined. It may be the death of one of the characters. Or it may be the mass deaths of nuclear Armageddon; the road trippers driven by the Hanford nuclear power plant, created as part of the Manhattan project. And the car, conjured up with just chairs and atmospheric cues from lighting designer Oona Curley, becomes a claustrophobic enclosure traveling through space as well as time.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: In 'California', a road trip and a detour into the darkness
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