Aug 06, 2008 — Off the Map is the current offering at the Depot Theatre in Westport and runs through August 10. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at a recent performance and has our review.
OFF THE MAP by Joan Ackerman is an off-beat comedy that's set up as a memory play in the style of THE GLASS MENAGERIE. The central character is 11-year-old Bo, while the adult Bo acts as the narrator, commenting on and explaining this crucial summer of her childhood. The playwright has written the narration in very formal rather stilted language using no contractions. It's difficult to believe this overly ladylike character is the adult version of the free-spirited child of hippies growing up in the New Mexico desert. The playwright gives no explanation for the drastic change and we see no hint of the child in the woman.
The physical production is just fine. Jean Brookman's set is the archetype of an early 70s hippie home, complete with no running water and an outhouse. I especially liked the butterfly-backed rocker. Her costumes are also good and Christopher R. Hoyt's lighting helps define the many short scenes.
The cast is a bit uneven. The pivotal role of Bo is double cast and the young lady I saw, Cyntaya Derecskey isn't really up to the job. She rattles her lines off so fast that only about a third are intelligible, leaving a big hole in the center of the play. As the adult Bo Leslie Simons just isn't believable, but that may be the writing or the directing, rather than the actress.
On the other hand, the rest of the cast is strong. Brian Gunter, whose work I enjoyed last summer, is terrific as George, the touchingly naive friend of Bo and her family. As William Gibbs, the IRS man, Marshall York does a fine job, especially with the story of his mother and brother.
David Murray Jaffe is very good as Charley, Bo's depressed and weepy father. It's a difficult role as he's largely silent in Act I. I particularly liked the business with the pebble and the shoe. As Arlene, Bo's mother, Kristin Griffith is thoroughly believable. She's created a beautifully layered character that at times seems to light up from within.
John Christopher Jones has done a nice job of staging the play and I really like his music choices. He's helped his adult actors create interesting and believable characters, with the exception of the adult Bo. It's difficult to tell if it's the playwright or the director's interpretation that's the problem.
I'm sorry I'm not able to see the alternate Bo and perhaps get a clearer picture of both the character and the play. Although this is a flawed production, OFF THE MAP is an interesting play with interesting ideas, some nice human moments and plenty of humor.
On a scale of one to five the Depot Theatre production of OFF THE MAP gets three and a half box cars. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.