THE BASICS: The area premiere of this comedy-drama/fantasy by Bekah Brunstetter (author of “This is Us”) runs weekends (Thurs-Saturday evenings) at Alleyway Theatre through May 28th. A.D. Chris Handley directs a cast of six. TRAIL runs about two hours with its single intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The action takes place now, in 1997 and in 1848. As Jane, an angry, troubled Millennial, comes of age, she is surprised and delighted to find that her all-time favorite video game, The Oregon Trail, has come to life, and provides her with some well-worn comfort and welcome guidance as she struggles with young adulthood. This unusual piece is about perseverance, and also, progressively, about the problem of depression in young people.
THIS AND THAT: It turns out that Oregon Trail was a very popular video game in the 90’s, but, being a Boomer and non-videogame-player, I had no idea of that. Clearly, I am not part of this play’s target audience! There are lots of ‘90s references, and a number of ‘90s tunes, but these mainly went sailing over my aging Boomer head. The idea of having some of the cast operate in a second (pioneer) universe is intriguing, but the two universes run in parallel, and do not interact with one another in the way that I thought (and hoped) they would. There is little in the way of dramatic arc, and the characters are not well-developed generally. Susan McCormack, as Jane’s dutiful, high functioning older sister is the major exception, and she gives the play’s strongest performance, I believe. The striking resemblance of Renee Landrigan as Jane, and Elise Vullo as Then-Jane helps cement one of the major plot points. Although both are fine actors, they do tend to get quiet on stage, and some key dialog gets lost even on the small Alleyway main stage. Nicholas Lama has a nice, perky presence as the Voice of the Game, and John Profeta makes a fine, stern pioneer father.
If you are in the mood for something different and are, with luck, a knowledgeable Millennial, TRAIL may just be your ticket.
Having some trouble understanding what this is all about? OREGON TRAIL is a difficult play to describe, let alone analyze. It is definitely unusual, and, to its credit, holds one’s attention throughout. The Alleyway production, dominated by a largish, less-than-breathtaking covered wagon set piece, is pretty bare-bones, but serviceable. There are some nice period costumes by Kari Drozd, and occasional pleasing special effects. If you are in the mood for something different and are, with luck, a knowledgeable Millennial, TRAIL may just be your ticket. Those who favor a traditional “well-made” play may want to think twice about making the investment…
Meanwhile Alleyway continues to be the go-to place for the new and unconventional in local theater.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!