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In the moments before an accident, some people relate the experience of having their entire life flash before their eyes. But that has always seemed somewhat hyperbolic. Sure, one might recall their first kiss. What they wore on their first date. The birth of a child. The big events. The larger moments. The times when something happened that meant that life would never, ever be the same again. Odds are better than average you don’t see your last trip to the grocery store or flash back to the day you lost your keys at the mall.
In Sixty Miles to Silver Lake, we experience the wrenching aspect of reliving those big events. The fatal mistakes made. The things said that can’t be taken back. The stench of regret. The frustrating faultiness of memory. The rewriting of history in a fashion so maddening one wonders how much reinvention was done with malicious intent, and how much was born out of the necessity of self-preservation.
And it all takes place in a space no larger than the front seat of a car.
Ky (Chris Mancusi) is a weekend parent, ending his Saturdays at work by picking up his son from soccer and driving the 60 miles home to Los Angeles’ Silver Lake district. Denny (Andrew Sonntag) is a combination of being exactly the teenager every parent would want to have and the kind of 14-year old they dread. Funny and intelligent, capable of great excitement and enthusiasm, even laughing at his father’s jokes on occasion.
But Denny can also turn moody and angry. Intentionally provoking altercations and demanding compensation for his perceived poor lot in life. Whiny. Dismissive. Taking his mother’s side on all things. Unafraid of driving the final stake into Ky’s heart by declaring, ”I wish you weren’t my father.”
In the claustrophobic front seat of his father’s sensible car, Ky and Denny play out a taut and darkly fascinating drama. They are not only trying to piece together the shattered bits of a family that has been roughly broken apart (this is not one of those scenarios where parents put on a brave and friendly face for the children), but trying to figure out what the events of the past say about them as individuals.
When the framework of a family is utterly and irretrievably undone, what are these relationships that we hold onto?
Just as Sixty Miles opened in Studio’s 2ndStage last week, The New York Times awarded its Outstanding Playwright Award to the show’s author Dan LeFranc. While there is sometimes an impulse to dismiss such awards, declaring that the work is what truly matters, not the trophies, LeFranc’s Sixty Miles defies such cynicism. It’s a play that deserves recognition, not only for what it has to say about relationships and the curious, often unfathomable, dynamics between parents and children, but for the daring manner in which he has chosen to say it.
Sixty Miles is a series of rough jump cuts, where audience is volleyed back and forth through time, and place – that mythical system of mirages known as California’s highways – is a wholly ephemeral thing. We have no landmarks, only guides. We must place our full faith in these two characters, trusting that they will guide us safely – though not soundly – to our final destination.
Sonntag makes smart work of the character Denny. Completely convincing as the petulant teenager, contorting his body in ways that are all too familiar to anyone who has had to urge a 13-year-old to get their feet off the dashboard or watched as they manage to somehow hang from the edge of a closed car window. But there’s also a necessary sophistication at play, with Sonntag making certain we don’t dismiss Denny, see him only as a wreck of hormones and battling parents. We need to understand Denny and even feel a bit of empathy for him. On both these counts Sonntag delivers.
Mancusi has the more thankless role, playing the kind of dad that has made us all groan at one time or another. If Denny is a balanced mix of two distinctly different teenagers, Ky is the ”divorced dad” played full tilt. Ky wants his son to be his buddy. He wants to trade locker room advice and impress Denny with his taste in music.
Mancusi takes the role and runs with it, offering tender sentiment and cringe-inducing sexual advice with the same steady hand and earnest personality. We recognize Mancusi’s Ky, struggling against the clock to be a real father to his son. Mancusi presents us with an individual we want very much to succeed, even as we grow increasingly certain he will not.
Sixty Miles to Silver Lake is not, unfortunately, a story with which we are unfamiliar. Even as rights to marry are being gained, some same-sex couples are raising the question of how to navigate the legal questions raised by their desire to divorce. In some of these situations – and divorces not yet dreamed of ever taking place – there will be children involved.
What LeFranc has done is offered us a new perspective on the messy business of divorce. A perspective so intimate and recognizable we are offered immediate entrance. The trick is to be sure to keep our eyes open as these lives flash before us, no matter how much we might want to look away.