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March 23 – April 15, 2007

Diversionary Theatre will present Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel’s The Long Christmas Ride Home – A Puppet Play with Actors as the fifth show of their 2006-2007 season. Past, present and future collide on a snowy Christmas Eve for a troubled family of five. Humorous and heart-wrenching, this beautifully written play by the author of How I Learned to Drive proves that magic can be found in the simplest breaths of life.

The ride Vogel takes us on this time around is very much a case of a dedicated teacher following the adventurous spirit she tries to nourish in her students in Brown University’s MFA playwriting program. In deconstructing one family’s image of American as apple pie togetherness on the ultimate family holiday, Vogel returns to the central proposition of How I Learned to Drive and the painful memories of her brother’s death from AIDS explored in The Baltimore Waltz. It is also the outgrowth of her interest in fostering experimental theatrical techniques and acknowledging the roots of that experimental spirit. Thus The Long Christmas Ride Home combines theatrical puppetry with Japanese and contemporary theater techniques, and at the same time pays tribute to another Pulitzer Prize winner, Thornton Wilder — most obviously Wilder’s The Happy Journey From Trenton but also Our Town.

Diversionary’s production will be directed by Lisa Berger. The cast features Chris Buess, Ozzie Carnan, Amanda Cooley Davis, Dana Hooley, John Rosen and Crystal Verdon. The puppets will be created by Lynne Jennings, Mindy Donner and Iain Gunn of The Puppetry Center of San Diego. Sam Creely, Emily Marfia and Nicole Solas will be apprentice puppeteers. Andrew Jacobs will provide live music, and Peter Kalivas of the PGK Project will choreograph a special dance section. The design team includes David Weiner (sets), Jennifer Setlow (lights) and Cecilia Church (costumes). Victoria Martinez will stage manage, and Jenna Long will be dramaturg.

Described as “a richly deserving and rewarding play” when it premiered at the Vineyard Theatre in Provincetown in 2003, this entertainment is of the more serious, introspective sort one would expect from a show based on the art of Bunraku, Japanese puppet theatre. The play seamlessly integrates American theatrical comedy and the centuries-old art form into a unique and very special show that, puppets or no, feels like nothing else to show up recently on the New York boards.

It all starts with the story, which finds a husband and wife driving their three children, Stephen, Rebecca, and Claire (the show’s primary puppet characters) home after a catastrophic Christmas dinner with their grandparents. Husband and wife, in the car’s front seat, narrate the action while their children – portrayed primarily by three actors, with additional puppeteers cloaked in black from head to toe providing assistance – fight, argue, threaten to get sick, and so on.

The puppets, which are being created for Diversionary’s production by The Puppetry Center of San Diego, have a near-complete range of motion that allows every extremity and every joint to define a character emotionally by representing them with exacting physical precision. This is most striking because the manipulators don’t seem to be controlling their puppets, but rather allowing the children’s characters to express themselves; each one has hopes, fears, and dreams, that are fully realized dramatically. The resulting blend of the traditional and the contemporary is justified in the show as being created in Stephen’s mind when he’s inspired by a Japanese culture presentation during a church service.











[tab title=”Cast”]

[tab title=”Creative Team”]Playwright: Paula Vogel

Director: Lisa Berger

Set: David Weiner

Lighting: Jennifer Setlow

Bunraku and other puppets: Lynne Jennings, Mindy Donner, Iain Gunn of Puppetry Center of San Diego

Puppeteers: Sam Creely, Emily Marfia, Nicole Solas

Choreographer: Peter Kalivas


[tab title=”Reviews”]


Actors, puppets intertwine for a captivating ‘Ride’

By Anne Marie Welsh

March 27, 2007

Diversionary Theatre has just opened one of the most artful productions in its 22-year history, Paula Vogel’s funny and heartbreaking “The Long Christmas Ride Home.”

A Pulitzer-winner for “How I Learned to Drive,” Vogel often deconstructs works by earlier playwrights to make us see familiar experiences with fresh eyes. Seldom has she assembled material from “Our Town” and traditional Japanese theater with such sweeping stylistic command as in this challenging and entertaining 2003 play – a collage mixing past, present and future, dark comedy and pathos, Eastern and Western aesthetics.

Key to its unusual effect is Vogel’s use of puppets to play three children trapped in the back seat of their feuding parents’ car. Together, they travel to church and to their grandparents’ apartment for a nightmare Christmas dinner leading to violence – and a near-death experience that binds the siblings forever in love and terror.

For the Diversionary staging, meticulously directed by Lisa Berger, the puppets were created by the San Diego Puppetry Center and manipulated, Bunraku style, by three black-clad puppeteers and by three actors, who later play these children, grown-up.

With their glittering glass eyes, impassive faces, and utterly mobile bodies, the dolls express a staggering range of emotions; the children tease and pummel and comfort one another as the old Rambler lurches through snowy streets. Their characters are, of course, being formed by the experiences they share.

Rebecca, around 12, wants to escape the family sadness and conflict in the arms of a boy. Little Claire, Daddy’s golden girl and guilt-ridden already because of that, asks questions and restlessly tries to understand what’s going on. And Stephen, who’d rather watch boys than play soccer with them, dreams of spiritual beauty and transcendence.

As we see their behavior and hear their inner thoughts (spoken by actors Dana Hooley and John Rosen, who play both the parents and the narrators), Vogel reveals both the terrible powerlessness of children and their even mightier resilience.

The compulsive, distracted father is in the midst of another affair, while the unhappy, lashing mother comically contemplates having one. He’s an assimilated Jew, she a lapsed Catholic; hence, they’re raising their children Unitarian-Universalist. At that church, a kooky minister (Ozzie Carnan Jr.) introduces the still beauty of Japanese woodblock prints, their lovely simplicity embraced by Stephen (and the Asian themes underscored by Andrew Jacobs’ stylish musical accompaniment).

Vogel has covered some of this ground before in her breakthrough play of 1991, “The Baltimore Waltz.” In that nonlinear, tonally mixed work, she took a startlingly comic, sidelong look at the suffering and death (from HIV-AIDS) of her brother Carl.

And while the theme of family dysfunction has had a good workout from her and other such darkly comic writers as Nicky Silver, Vogel here treats the material with such originality and from such a detached perspective that her themes feel almost new.

New – and old, as well, for “The Long Christmas Ride Home” is partially an homage to the Thornton Wilder of “Old Town.” In his American classic, the innocent Emily comes back from the dead to see the beloved she has left behind. She brings lessons, too, about living in the present, truly discovering the joy to be had in each precious breath of life.

In his too-carefully calibrated delivery of Stephen’s similarly philosophical scenes, actor Chris Buess doesn’t always avoid the pretentious; once he relaxes, however, he may.

The few “realistic” scenes also deflate some, both in the script and this staging. Vogel shows each grown-up child (Amanda Cooley Davis as Claire; Crystal Verdon as Rebecca; and Buess) indulging in self-destructive behavior too predictably rooted in the childhoods we’ve glimpsed.

Still, the Diversionary production rounds back to a deeply affecting close. Stephen finally does convey his joyous awareness bred of personal tragedy: loving ties still bind the living and the dead.

Ambitious in all the right ways, “The Long Christmas Ride Home” has inspired Berger, her design team and her fine Diversionary cast to create a similarly joyous, moving and artistically admirable production.
“The Long Christmas Ride Home” at Diversionary Theatre
Posted: 03/25/2007 at 10:28:53 PM PST
by Welton Jones

Isn’t the theatre a wondrous place when the right mixture of collaborators join for a harmonious whole?

Such is the case, right now, with the Diversionary Theatre production of Paula Vogel’s excellent, inventive play, “The Long Christmas Ride Home.”

The title may sound vaguely familiar. I take it to be homage to one of America’s greatest dramatists, Thornton Wilder, who wrote, in addition to “Our Town,” two landmark short plays, “The Long Christmas Dinner” and “The Happy Journey From Trenton.”

Vogel borrows that comfortable mix of pointed reality and casual fantasy that so graces Wilder’s masterpieces – “Our Town,” “The Skin of Our Teeth” – for her poignant story of the precise moment when holiday-induced maximum pressure tips an ill-starred family toward the ruin of a generation.

She also utilizes a Japanese puppet style – Bunraku, in which three black-clad, masked puppeteers guide the motions of life-sized figures – to play the children of the family, and an assortment of live music, monologues, Asian-flavored dance, shadows, projected drawings, Christmas carols and mime.

Such a mixture requires a variety of talents meshed in mutual support under inspirational leadership, and that’s what Diversionary’s executive/artistic director Dan Kirsch has supplied.

The Puppetry Center of San Diego supplied the three children of the family (and an intriguing animated creche) with enough construction and manipulation skill to allow them life as major characters. And director Lisa Berger, who makes no wrong moves that I noticed, blends them to eerie effect with the human cast.

Nearly all of the dialogue for the key scenes in the family car is provided by Dana Hooley and John Rosen, playing with deep despair the parents, “a lapsed Catholic and an assimilated Jew.”

Each child puppet has two operators, one of which eventually steps out as the grownup version of the characters for lacerating explanatory monologues.

Crystal Verdon is a haunting, vivid victim as the older sister and Amanda Cooley Davis roils with frustrated lust as the younger sister. It is their brother, played with clarity and radiant inner strength by Chris Buess who is the focus and, ultimately, the reason for the play.

Ozzie Carnan Jr. plays a variety of supporting roles, including a savage caricature of a Westerner bedazzled by ancient Japanese culture, and is the primary interpreter of Peter G. Kalivas’ brief by effective choreography. Andrew Jacobs supplies the assorted music and sound effects, perhaps too timidly but always with sensitivity.

Vogel’s design for the play is a series of interior musings and exterior exchanges for the core family in their car and at church surrounding a flash forward to the interim fates of the children entering adulthood. The absence of give-and-take dialogue allows her to be efficient with timing and wraps the package up neatly in just 70 or so minutes.

There may be a bit more dreamy, moist pathos than one would wish but the sincerity of the mess and the way it works on the children is made eloquently clear.

Davis Weiner’s scenery is precisely in tune with the play and staging and he makes marvelous use of one sleek set-piece, smoothly convertible into car seat, church pew or park bench. Jennifer Setlow wields Diversionary’s modest lighting resources with serene aplomb and both the costumes and the properties of Cecilia Church (including Daddy’s hopeless necktie) are uniformly excellent.

Rare is the production so even in consistency as this one. And what a deserving play for this happy blend.

San Diego CityBeat

Diversionary’s highly visual Christmas Ride Home does just about everything right
by Martin Jones Westlin
March 28, 2007

Paula Vogel doesn’t think the puppets in The Long Christmas Ride Home: A Puppet Play with Actors are supposed to be cute. As the playwright says in the program notes from this current Diversionary Theatre entry: “There is nothing cute or coy about [them]; they are fascinating and quite lifelike in their animation. And they may be a little spooky, too—as anyone will tell you who has been caught in the stare of a puppet,” like we all have.

But since when did “fascinating” and “lifelike” cancel out cute? Fact is, these three are absolutely adorable when they need to be, just like the kids whose lives they’re meant to parallel. Pretty little sisters Rebecca and Claire giggle and nod in self-congratulation, the way pretty little sisters do when they’re trapped for hours in the back seat of the family auto; meanwhile, their henpecked brother Stephen sucks up his carsickness and scratches his ass in a childlike show of bravado. The charm is actually a vital dramatic trait. It sets up the contrast that takes place a few years later, when the puppets spring to life as troubled human counterparts, their identities rubbed raw as their pasts and presents converge.

Christmas Ride Home is a really strong piece, and not just because of the puppets, who are operated by the actors they represent. They’re only one of several treatments that color the play’s focal event—a thorny car trip home after a disastrous Christmas dinner at the kids’ grandparents’ house. The dour father and mother (John Rosen and Dana Hooley) narrate the action, which touches on everything from interfaith marriage to the father’s Neanderthal skills behind the wheel.

From there, we see the realization of some of their worst real-life concerns—Rebecca’s (Crystal Verdon) unplanned pregnancy and homelessness; Claire’s (Amanda Cooley Davis) brush with suicide after a lesbian love gone bad; and gay Stephen’s worldly inspiration through a Japanese culture presentation during a church service.

That’s a lot of culture and family history to take in on the heels of one lousy car trip, but director Lisa Berger and her tech crew turn the story’s wide range to their advantage. The show’s visual and aural aspects—the vague suggestion of snowdrifts, the bare hint of Japanese architecture, the set pieces’ multiple uses, Andrew Jacobs’ simple music, the puppets themselves (authentic Japanese theater pieces created by The Puppetry Center of San Diego)—envelop the action as a whole rather than try to define its segments. That makes for an extraordinary cohesion, one that holds our interest in the climax and the family redemption it yields.

Stephen hails that deliverance as any devoted son would—and actor Chris Buess colors the part with an introspection that almost approaches dispassion, the way any self-respecting narrator should. Ozzie Carnan Jr. is fine in several assignments, especially that of the Unitarian minister. What a clever choice of sect on Vogel’s part—Unitarianism is about the least dogmatic U.S. religious faction there is, and that makes it a welcome referent in this very global set of concepts.

Christmas Ride Home speaks to the far-reaching effects of the seemingly uneventful encounters in our lives. It’s written with love, altruism and hope, and it’s staged absolutely accordingly. It may choose the long way around in imparting its message, but Vogel and Berger take pains to ensure that everything is across the street from everything else throughout the trip.

This review is based on the opening-night performance of March 24. The Long Christmas Ride Home: A Puppet Play with Actors runs through April 15 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., University Heights. $9-$29. 619-220-0097.

Curtain Calls by Pat Launer
San Diego Theatre Scene
March 30, 2007

THE SHOW: The Long Christmas Ride Home, written in 2003 by Pulitzer prize-winner Paula Vogel

THE BACKSTORY: Vogel has said she never likes one of her plays to look like another. She loves to experiment with form and time, as we’ve seen in other Vogel plays that have been presented in San Diego: the Pulitzer-winning How I Learned to Drive (at the SD Rep in 1998, opening this weekend at Lynx Performance Theatre), Hot ‘n’ Throbbing and Baltimore Waltz (Fritz Theatre, 1997 and 1994, respectively) and The Mineola Twins (Diversionary Theatre, 2000). She is still haunted by the 1988 death of her brother from AIDS, which was the focal point of Baltimore Waltz, and that specter emerges in this drama as well. A car and traumatized children appear in this and other plays. Christmas Ride also pays homage to the works of Thornton Wilder, particularly his one-acts, The Long Christmas Dinner and The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden. But Ride’s visitation from the other world is also reminiscent of Our Town. Vogel has something else on her mind, too: a Japanese esthetic, including the music, art and bunraku puppets. And she’s also included a scene of Indonesian shadow puppetry and modern interpretive dance. Amazingly, it all works.

THE STORY: A Father, Mother and their three children take a fateful trip to church and then to Grandma and Grandpa’s house one Christmas. At the Universalist Unitarian church (they’re a “Uni-Uni” family, since Dad’s Jewish and Mom’s Catholic), a substitute minister gives a slideshow presentation about Japanese woodblocks, ukiyo-e (here defined as “the floating world”), to make some point about the universality of experience. Sensitive, 9-year old Stephen is smitten (like the playwright) by Japanese culture. Meanwhile, back at Grandma’s, there’s a terrible battle between Dad and Grandpa (concerning Stephen’s sensitivity and presumed sexuality) and the family storms out in a huff, into the frigid night. In the car, there’s another horrible fight, between the unhappy, sarcastic mother and the dismissive, philandering father, which results in a near-death experience for all, as the car swerves off the road and onto a precipice. This is a life-defining, traumatizing incident for the children, who are played, according to Vogel’s’ wishes, by life-size puppets. When the kids grow up (now portrayed by actors), events of that night will play out again in their later lives. It is the collective holding of breath at the moment of crisis that draws and binds the sibs together, even after death. And this shared experience provides the sense of hope and redemption in an otherwise dark and disturbing drama (punctuated occasionally by arch humor).

THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: The minimalist Japanese feel greets you from the get-go. David Weiner’s set entails a few piles of snow and a bench that converts into a ‘car.’ Each puppet is manipulated by two people, an actor and a puppeteer from the Puppetry Center of San Diego that designed themr. In order to foster the uncanny resemblance between the puppets and their ‘characters,’ the Puppetry Center worked from pictures of the actors at the children’s specified ages (7, 9, 12). The puppet movements are fantastic (in both senses of the word). Their lifelike actions moves are offset by their hauntingly vacant eyes (and this, too, was intended by the playwright). Later in the play, each of the actors steps away from the puppet to reveal the adult that child grew up to become, seriously scarred by that eventful Christmas outing, each sib in turn rejected by a lover. There are multiple distancing effects, from the puppets to the presentational style, most of the script told in monologues or narration, actors facing forward and addressing the audience. Still, the drama is riveting. The magical return of Stephen from the other world, the spiral of life/time in the upstage corner, the symbolic use of audible, communal breath multiple – all demonstrate how horrific experiences can be unifying. There’s an element of healing and hope at the end, in spite of the pain, damage and dysfunction.

As the Man/Woman narrators, Dana Hooley and John Rosen are saddled with the toughest task, facing front (a la Wilder), never looking at each other, barely interacting. But when they do, in that one seminal car-seat moment, it’s chilling. In providing exposition, narration and all the children’s dialogue, both are highly controlled – until they explode. Very powerful. As the adult children, all three actors — Chris Buess, Amanda Cooley Davis and Crystal Verdon (left) — give excellent performances. Buess takes the most substantial journey – within his character and across the Great Divide. He movingly conveys all the anguish, otherworldliness and healing the role requires. Like his ‘sibs,’ he does a great job with the puppet and then a fine turn in joining dancer Ozzie Carnan, Jr. in the brief, expressive interpretive dance (choreographed by Peter G. Kalivas). Also indicated in the text (but to my mind gratuitous and unnecessary) is Stephen’s anonymous — and ultimately deadly — sexual encounter, which is shown in silhouette, behind a screen. I accepted the scene more after I saw how Vogel had described it: “Stephen and anonymous partner simulate a sexual act that means this play will never be performed in Texas.”

Jennifer Setlow’s lighting design dramatizes the mood and facilitates subtle scene changes. And underscoring all the action, creating a definitively Asian soundscape, is the music and percussion of Andrew Jacobs, who plays several instruments and manages to simulate the plucked, stringy sound of a Japanese shamisen. The whole beautiful, touching production, one of the best ever at Diversionary, is unified by the vision of director Lisa Berger, who perfectly captures the spirit, the spirituality and the heart of the play.

‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Pat’s Picks)
The Long Christmas Ride Home, A Puppet Play with Actors – surprising, disturbing, unpredictable and excellently executed (Note: These puppets and this play are definitely not for kids). Diversionary Theatre, through April 15

San Diego Reader
March 28, 2007
By Jeff Smith

The Long Christmas Ride Home: A Puppet Play with Actors
Paula Vogel’s drama starts as a Christmas card, painted by Norman Rockwell with sentiments by Hallmark. A family from the WashingtonD.C. suburbs drives through snow to Grandma’s for the holiday. But it’s a long ride, dysfunction permeating every mile, and the life-threatening ride home’s even longer. Vogel requires Bunraku puppets for the three children, and a live soundscape. The play’s at its best when most experimental. Without these elements, the story’s pretty bare– and predictable, especially three similar monologues that stereotype the spurned children-as-adults– though the ending outmystifies Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (in Wilder, Emily gets to come back and have a look; in Long Christmas Drive, Stephen comes back and makes a difference). Diversionary’s production is quite watchable, though. The puppets, from the Puppetry Center of San Diego, at times manipulated by the actors who play them as adults, are expressive: the psychologically abused children function as prologues to the clobbered people they become. As is Andrew Jacobs’s music, from a flute to an oilcan tympani. John Rosen and Dana Hooley fare well as Narrator/Man and Narrator/Woman, the parents who seethe lava just below the surface (he complains that “I can’t breathe in this family” but inhales most of the available air). DavidF. Weiner’s minimalist set includes white sheets like puffy snowdrifts.

Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, University Heights, through April15; Thursday at 7:30p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8:00p.m. Sunday at 7:00p.m. Matinee Sunday at 2:00p.m. 619-220-0097.

Rating: Worth a try.

Diversity finds her voice
Playwright Paula Vogel’s mind goes well beyond gender bias barricades
By Jennifer Chung

March 26, 2007

It may be no coincidence that during National Women’s History Month, an astounding seven out of nine professional plays opening in San Diego in March are written by female playwrights.

More impressive is that works by Paula Vogel comprise two of those plays: “The Long Christmas Ride Home,” which opened Saturday at Diversionary Theatre, and “How I Learned to Drive,” produced by Lynx Performance Theatre and opening Friday.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright realizes this is an anomaly. Citing statistics from the landmark report sponsored by the New York State Council on the Arts in 2002, the most recent major report of its kind, Vogel noted that women make up more than 50 percent of playwrights, yet comprise just 17 percent of playwrights produced at regional theaters.

“That’s a pretty bad discrepancy,” Vogel said in a recent phone interview from Providence, R.I., where she is the Adele Kellenberg Seaver Professor in Creative Writing at Brown University. “I keep thinking this is going to end. We’re going to become part of the mainstream and at some point it’s going to be just invisible, the gender bias. And I’ve been saying that for 30 years.

“One thing has increased – there are somewhat more women directors, more women artistic directors, but it doesn’t seem to have an impact on the numbers. It upsets me. And it upsets me also that there needs to be more writers of color.”

Among theaters with budgets under $500,000, production of women playwrights jumps to about 30 percent. Smaller theaters like Diversionary and Lynx, which sometimes cater to niche audiences, can often take more risks when it comes to programming.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is re-connect with our lesbian and gay constituents. We’re studying voices who have not only made the most impact in the gay and lesbian community, but who have also made an impact in the broader community,” said Diversionary executive and artistic director Dan Kirsch. “Paula Vogel is an important playwright. She’s an open lesbian. We didn’t have a strong woman-centered piece in our season, and this was a way to make sure a woman’s voice was heard.”

Heavy topics

Vogel’s unique playwriting voice is marked by controversial subject matter, nonlinear structure, a blending of the humorous with the tragic, and an examination of the destructive and regenerative power of familial ties.

Vogel, 55, is widely known for the 1992 play “The Baltimore Waltz,” a tribute to her brother Carl, who died of AIDS in 1988. In the surreal play, a young teacher diagnosed with a fatal disease embarks on a whirlwind tour of Europe with her brother in search of a cure. The play garnered critical attention for its heartrending humor and mix of the absurd with the tragic.

In 1998 Vogel won the Pulitzer for “How I Learned to Drive,” about a young woman’s sexual relationship with her uncle. The play explores ideas of control, manipulation and misogyny without passing judgment on its characters.

Al Germani, artistic director for Lynx, noted that the play’s unusual structure and weighty subject are closely aligned with the theater’s sensibilities.

“It’s kind of already my style – it’s deconstructed, it jumps in time,” he said. “(Vogel) investigates the gray area. It’s not a real preachy play – he’s the bad guy, she’s the innocent little girl. It’s not polarized that way. It shows the reality of human beings.”

Other works, including “The Mineola Twins,” “Hot ‘n’ Throbbing” and “The Oldest Profession,” tackle such topics as homosexuality, domestic abuse, pornography and prostitution. These hot-button issues are rarely what the plays are about, though. Rather, they are vehicles for Vogel to examine the deeper emotional and psychological landscape among families and lovers.

Many of Vogel’s plays, including her 2003 drama “The Long Christmas Ride Home,” leap through time, blurring the line between dreams, fantasies, memories and truth.

“I don’t think we process our lives in a linear fashion,” Vogel said. “Memory jumps around.”

In the beginning

The playwriting process for Vogel begins with an image. The text comes later. Much later. She spends anywhere from five to 15 years researching story ideas before she ever begins to write.

“I tend to write a play once an image comes to me,” Vogel said. “Usually, when the image comes, it comes back, and back, and back – to the point where if I don’t write this, I’m going to go crazy.”

The genesis for “Ride” was an image of a young man administering CPR to the limp body of a boy held in his arms. In the play, breath is used in a meditative, ritualistic way, and figures symbolically throughout.

“I saw this man draw his head back, put his mouth to the boy’s mouth and breathe his breath into the boy. The boy started to come to life. Only, as I watched it, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s not a boy, that’s a bunraku puppet.”

The image sparked nearly a decade of research into various Japanese art forms – bunraku puppetry, Noh theater, shamisen (a stringed musical instrument) and even Japanese garage band music from the ’60s. Vogel incorporates these elements in a humorous and poignant examination of family dysfunction, demonstrating how a single moment in time can alter the course of our lives.

“Ride” looks back upon a cold winter’s night, as a family of five drives home from a disastrous Christmas dinner. In a single moment their emotionally fragile lives are put in real danger.

The three life-sized puppets, created for the show by the Puppetry Center of San Diego, represent the children. As in bunraku, puppeteers manipulate the puppets in full view of the audience.

“It’s a metaphor for childhood, that we are treated like puppets,” Vogel said. “We’re treated like manipulated things, objects attached to strings, without our own agency … “Puppets actually make us go along on the journey in a way that children as actors would not. There is a distance, a beauty.”

Silver lining

The play suggests that only with time and distance can you see the beauty in something that may at first seem horrific. One character speaks of the “terrible beauty” in his life, and director Lisa Berger based the production’s design around this notion.

“There are moments in life that are sources of great trauma and pain, but these are also the moments of greatest connection,” said Berger. “It happens for the three children in this play. They share a moment of great terror and trauma, but as a result, it causes them to make a deep connection with each other.”

And in this sense, despite the play’s tragic elements, it is also filled with hope.

“In order to break a pattern, you have to acknowledge the damage and pain,” Vogel said. “I very much see that siblings, together as adults, lifting up their faces into the light is a very positive, hopeful ending.”

Vogel tends to be optimistic, too, about the prospects for a full spectrum of diverse voices in theater. She sees it in the next generation of playwrights.

In her “day job” at Brown, she runs the graduate playwriting program and teaches undergraduate students. She counts among her former students Lynn Nottage (“Intimate Apparel”), Pulitzer Prize-winner Nilo Cruz (“Anna in the Tropics”) and Sarah Ruhl (“The Clean House”).

“The writing out there, from 20-to 30-year-olds, right now, is perhaps the most astonishing I’ve seen in 20 years,” Vogel said. “So there are diverse voices, and they are moving forward. They are going to be at the barricades. We need theater companies and new artistic visions to carry that forward.”

Jennifer Chung is a San Diego arts writer.




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