Dan LeFranc's penchant for playing with time and memory within the confines of family life first got a local airing last year in "The Big Meal," which won raves in its world premiere with American Theater Company (a New York production at Playwrights Horizons closes April 29). In "Sixty Miles to Silver Lake," LeFranc takes us inside a father-son road trip that straddles the yellow lines of love, fear, resentment, and forgiveness as it shifts back and forth in chronological time.
The result is rather like watching Stanley Donen's classic nonlinear film about a troubled marriage, "Two for the Road," filtered through the poignant filial snapshots of Harry Chapin's song "Cat's in the Cradle." And though the time-bending device could end up feeling self-conscious and smug, Sarah Moeller's precise and subtle staging for Collaboraction allows plenty of breathing room for fine acting, even as the atmosphere inside the car grows fraught with recrimination and male competitiveness.
For 80 minutes, Sean Bolger and Ethan Dubin sit side-by-side in Lizzie Bracken's deconstructed auto, moving through a series of confrontations, reconciliations, and revelations. Bolger's divorced Ky mostly refers to himself as "your dad" when talking to Dubin's sullen Denny, his soccer-obsessed kid who lives during the week with his mother. The salutation establishes both kinship and emotional distance — the lasting paradox of the weekend parent.
At first, we wonder why Ky keeps repeating questions about whether or not his ex has found a job or if she's dating, each one accompanied by not-so-subtle digs at the shortcomings of Denny's mom. "She's an excellent waitress," he observes at one point. "In fact, it's the only thing I've seen her do with any success." But small textual clues eventually pile up and we realize that we are seeing not one journey to Dad's home in the Los Angeles neighborhood referenced in the title, but several, stretching over many years. The past and present pulse together in a blood knot as snarled as the freeway traffic
The two fight about In-N-Out burgers, music, Denny's friendship with his coach's son, and a host of other issues that slowly take on denser (and sometimes near-sinister) implications. Denny needles his dad about everything from his relationship with a Christian folk-rocker Ky met at Starbucks to the inadequate legroom of the Saturn they're sharing. Occasionally, he jabs the needle right into the ventricle, muttering "I so wish you weren't my dad."
True, the frayed father-son bond is oft-traveled territory in American drama, and some of the moments here threaten to veer into generic grievances. But the beauty of LeFranc's script and this often-riveting staging is that it manages to negotiate the terrain between the characters' small moments of communion, such as a shared memory of grilling steaks on the porch, and the sudden blasts of emotional pain that leave shrapnel under the skin. It's a gem of a journey all around.
When: Through May 27
Where: Collaboraction at the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1575 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes