Solo actress tells tales of life as a roller coaster Fast pace leaves audience a little breathless


Herald Writer

SEATTLE – What in God’s name would riding the rails at Auschwitz have in common with riding the rails on a roller coaster in Sandusky, Ohio?

They’re both part of a life’s bag of events for one man.

Actress Lisa Kron draws on her experiences with her father in her solo show "2.5 Minute Ride," currently at A Contemporary Theatre.

An actress and memoirist, Lisa Kron knows how memory jangles up against itself in the big attic rooms of our minds. These stories of her Midwestern family, most notably her father, pull together themes that run from comedy to pathos.

Kron starts with a hilarious account of two family rituals. One’s the wedding of her brother to his Internet bride. Before the wedding, the family tries to pigeonhole Kron and her life partner Peg as "bridesmaids," evoking the specter of a couple having to wear matching dresses.

The other family ritual has been going on since childhood. Her venturesome father has a yen for roller coasters; each year, they make the drive to Sandusky, Ohio’s theme park, which boasts the most roller coasters in the world.

Anyone who has traveled with an elderly parent will recognize these hilarious adventures, though putting a half-blind, diabetic, 74-year-old Holocaust survivor on a free-falling roller coaster makes Kron doubt her own sanity.

He survives the "2.5 minute ride" just as he survived the Holocaust, a little breathlessly, but intact.

This warm, loving memoir takes the viewer on that same ride.

This stuff is as open and Midwestern as Jell-O salad and a hot dish, but what isn’t is the third story. Kron and her father go back to the old country and ultimately to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland where her father’s parents died. They find nothing of her grandparents but mass graves and rooms full of hair, artificial limbs, and, worst of all somehow, suitcases.

So many people have been robbed of their parents and grandparents, their ancestry and heritage, through concentration camps, slave ships, atom bombs, political regimes that "disappear" people in countries like Argentina, Bosnia, Kosovo and Guatemala. And if we define our own identity by the pride we take in those long-ago folks, to be robbed of that patrimony makes for anguish, loss – and anger.

With her short, baggy pants and hob-nailed black shoes and a face that’s as mobile as a clown, Lisa Kron is expert in blending all this into theater. A wonderful device is the blank slide show she gives, evoking entire worlds of friends and relatives, old cars and postcards with her words and her laser pointer. All we see are blank rectangles of light.

The only time the evening loses its shape is when Kron self-searchingly asks the audience if she’s being arrogant in talking about Auschwitz at all. Then, the performance suddenly has the confessional almost pitchman-quality of one of those PBS specials by John Bradshaw or Barbara Sher.

Kron’s spilling verbiage turns at a speed that can make you dizzy, sentence by sentence, topic by topic, mood by mood. The flat Midwestern ordinariness of her voice telling even the toughest things speak most to the artists’ sense of regaining what was lost, of "putting my hand on my father’s life."

"2.5 Minute Ride" – A solo show written and performed by Lisa Kron, directed by Mark Brokaw, at A Contemporary Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, through July 30. Tickets: 206-292-7676.

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