Lo Riders


Show #39: Lolita Roadtrip, San Jose Stage Company, April 24.

Chloë Bronzan and Patrick Alparone in Lolita Roadtrip. Photo by Dave Lepori.

By Sam Hurwitt

On Easter Sunday I took a road trip down to San Jose to see Lolita Roadtrip, the new play by Trevor Allen at San Jose Stage Company. Trevor and I used to work together at Theatre Bay Area, and I loved his Frankenstein adaptation The Creature when I saw it a couple years ago, plus pretty much everybody in the cast is a favorite of mine. Lolita Roadtrip is copresented by PlayGround, which commissioned the play and provided financial support for its premiere through its New Play Production Fund.

Julia, a Stanford grad student, is retracing Vladimir Nabokov’s 1941 road trip from New York to California as research for her thesis. A teenage hustler named Danny hitches a ride with her, and along the way Julia grapples with her own Lolita experience from her past.

The big deal Julia makes of being much older than Danny is undermined somewhat by the two not particularly looking as if they’re different ages. But Patrick Alparone does a fine job embodying the boisterous energy of teenage Danny, while the intellectual assuredness and slight social awkwardness that Chloë Bronzan projects really brings grad student Julia to life. She has a haunted quality much of the time but lights up when talking about Nabokov.

Julian López-Morillas emerges giving a lecture on the same author as Professor Paul Drake, a character occupying a difference space but surely more than thematically linked to Julia. He also plays Nabokov himself lecturing about butterflies, and it’s vey much to López-Morillas’s credit that there’s no danger of getting the two recurring lectures mixed up, because his gentle, Russian-accented Nabokov has a very different personality than his sardonic, self-satisfied Drake.

Stacy Ross has compelling presence as Drake’s cancer-plagued wife Mary, dazed with pain and morphine on her deathbed. Unfortunately Mary, who soliloquizes passive-aggressively about feeling neglected by her husband who’s always working away in the next room, mostly serves to add a note of pathos to her husband’s story and is a drag as a character in herself. It’s not that she seems at all unfair in her assessment—the way she describes him seems simply accurate—but her bitterness is more draining than her infirmity.

Former Marin Theatre Company artistic director Lee Sankowich gives the play an engagingly, well-paced staging with lots of use of the aisles and a rotating desert-roadside set by Guilio Cesare Perrone, laced with moody suspense music in Cliff Caruthers’s sound design.

From time to time the quartet will come out and tell separate stories simultaneously, not quite talking at the same time but going round-robin with bite size chunks of their individual narratives. Julia tells a disturbing story of a young girl who gets involved with a much older man; she tells it in “once upon a time” format, but it’s clear from the start that this is her story. Meanwhile Professor Drake lectures on Nabokov and the speculation about where the idea for Lolita came from, and from the way he delivers certain points and meaningful gazes exchanged between him and Julia as they deliver their monologues, you get the idea that he’s probably the guy she’s talking about. Mary rhapsodizes about the quilt she’s wearing, which doesn’t look anything like what she’s describing in such loving detail. Danny talks about his abusive dad and early experiences hustling.

But this fugue strategy of overlapping monologues that Allen used to such haunting effect in The Creature proves problematic in Lolita Roadtrip. It’s hard to follow the individual spoken threads as they interweave and tangle, and inevitably you have to essentially stop listening to one of two people in order to follow what the others are saying. That’s because with the exception of Julia and Drake these separate strands don’t play off each other and lend each other resonance. Mary’s monologue especially, and to a lesser extent Danny’s, feel like they’re only there to allow them to take part in the fugue and don’t really add much to the story. Everyone’s strong performances help considerably, but aren’t quite enough to make these sequences work.

There’s a lot of strong material in the play, and it’s particularly effective at making you care about the central characters, but there’s sometimes a sense that it’s spinning its wheels as it moves along. Some of the banter gets repetitive, such as the running gag about intergenerational cultural references (Dukes of Hazzard TV show vs. movie, etc.), and people rattle off snappy wordplay for its own sake in a way that often comes off as non sequiturs.  As fun as it is to see Ross and López-Morillas show up as various colorful characters the travelers meet on their journey, the encounters themselves often don’t particularly move the story along, except that they provide a body of evidence for one of the upcoming twists. The road takes a sharp turn toward potboiler melodrama at the end, but even that proves touching in its way. It may not be the most satisfying place for the story to take us, but the point of the journey isn’t really the destination—it’s all you experience along the way—and on that score this Roadtrip has a lot to offer.

Lolita Roadtrip plays through May 1 at San Jose Stage Company, 490 First Street, San Jose. http://thestage.org

About author

No comments yet.

Be first to leave your comment!




Your comment:

Add your comment