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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Off The Map
By Elyse Sommer
Since I've already reviewed several Shakespeare & Co. Productions and with my to-review plate piled high, I was going to bypass Off the Map. Until I saw Corinna May listed as one of the players and Normi Noel as the director! With their work in Betrayal (see our review) still fresh in mind, I quickly opted to make room on my calendar. I'm glad I did.
Off the Map is a fine and original memory play that introduces you to six thoroughly likeable characters. Its language is poetic but without sacrificing accessibility. Set designer Jim Younger has made good use of the Stable's space to create a vividly realistic replica of the Groden home and under Normi Noel's direction the story shuttles effortlessly from present to past and from one situation to another. While Ms. Ackermann is less given to pauses than Pinter (the author of Betrayal), her play has its share of pauses that are as fraught with meaning and feelings as the spoken dialogue. The six characters we watch grappling with their inner demons, their dreams and their relationships to one another, are very much an ensemble and not one member of the sextet strikes any wrong notes.
The play's narrator is the thirty-three-year-old Bo Gordon (Corinna May)--elegant, mature and alternately amused and sad about the events that make up her reminiscence about the summer when she was eleven. The dress and manner of this adult Bo is in sharp contrast to the childhood scene she evokes--a tin-roofed house furnished with castoffs scrounged from the dump in the northern New Mexico area they call home. The family to which the adult Bo introduces us is not your typical small-town family, tending a farm or working ordinary jobs. As they live in a part of the state that's almost "off the map" so they've forged a system of economic survival that's outside the realm of the confines of a money-based society. But even freedom from the burdens of a more "normal" existence does not carry warranty against problems, personal demons and dependencies.
Young Bo (Rory Hammond) yearns to be part of the "on the map" world. Her father, Charley, (Dennis Krausnick), a Korean war veteran, is in an inexplicable depression that has turned him into "a crying machine" with " all the fluids gone out of him." Arlene, Bo's part Hopi mother (Ariel Bok), is desperate to rescue her husband from the abyss of his despair. To complete the immediate family circle, there's Bo's' woman-shy godfather and another Korean war veteran, George (Jonathan Croy).
The present day event setting off Bo's reminiscences is a memorial service for William Gibbs (Jim Nutter). As Bo replays the summer's events, we see him arrive on the Groden doorstep in the unlikely guise of an I.R.S. man. Instead of collecting a tax debt, however, he quits his job and stays with the Grodens to release his buried artistic soul, and both his and Charley's demons. Their emotional transformations and George's marriage and departure give young Bo a glimpse of the "answers to great mysteries, of deep love" she has sought. Most of all she learns that life is filled with changes, that "each change lets you catch something new"--that "the better you are at letting go, the freer your hand will be to catch something new." An unseen "character" lending a mythical note to the various characters' "letting go" is a coyote whose death is linked to these emotional and dramatic turning points.
What gives Ackermann's play its richness is that this family is never dysfunctional since they never let go of the connecting threads of love that bind them. They don't have to know the "landscape of another's purgatory" to cast a rescuing net. This is beautifully expressed by the adult Bo after she describes the effect of Charley's reaching into his own healthy self as he responds to William's need-- "his depair flowed into the estuary of my father's grief." When young Bo reaches out to Charley with the impossible gift of a fifteen foot boat, that boat does indeed perform the miracle of bringing him back to the shore where his tears can dry at last.
Those old standbys of a critic's vocabulary--sad, funny, heartwarming--apply to everyone and everything about this play. Don't miss it. And if you can't make its current run, watch for the movie which has been optioned by actor Campbell Scott and is slated for production (in New Mexico) next Spring.