A Little Journey
Written by Rachel Crothers
Directed by Jackson Gay
"It's got a sort of getting together feeling about it," observes appropriately named westbound passenger Jim West (McCaleb Burnett) in Rachel Crothers
' A Little Journey
. "The outside world stops." It doesn't so much stop as gradually slow down in the Mint Theater
's revival of this 1918 train comedy (through July 10), a kind of precursor to Before Sunrise
wrapped inside a cross-class sleeping car ensemble farce of forced proximity with a tinge of pioneering Western expansion narratives. One berth over from Jim on the four-day train ride from New York to points west sits Julie Rutherford (Samantha Soule), a Manhattan socialite headed to her brother's Montana home after her wealthy aunt fell on hard times and kicked her out. They become close after he pays to replace her lost ticket, with mixed reactions from their nosy sleeping car mates.
For Jim, the optimistic founder of an agrarian rehab colony, this return West is rejuvenating, but for Julie it's a painful, shameful trip towards a lifetime of sadness. (For a capable man the West offers untold opportunities, while for a woman it promises some form of domestic servitude.) Adjacent berths on Roger Hanna's superbly detailed rotating wooden set house variations on generic narratives, like the homeward-bound college buddies Charles (Ben Roberts) and Frank (Ben Hollandsworth); a courtship between the latter and Annie (Chet Siegel) whenever her spinsterish grandmother (Rosemary Prinz) isn't looking; a destitute and frail single mother (Jennifer Blood) hoping her baby daddy will take her in; the grumpy old society dame Mrs. Welch (Laurie Birmingham) annoyed by a the fast-talking traveling salesman (Craig Wroe) and suspicious of the black porter (Anthony L. Gaskins). Irritable at first, they all settle into some kind of routine as their not-so-little journey enters its penultimate day.
A Little Journey
's three acts might have benefitted from some editing, particularly during the second, which drags considerably as the characters are all positioned for seemingly predictable denouements that Crothers then deliciously and very literally derails. The mid-section loses steam, but the final act is so surreal and unexpected that any slackness quickly fades from view. Optimistic humanism wins out in all the supporting micro-dramas, but uncertainty over Julie's fate remains to the very end. Her journey towards a new life, repeatedly rerouted, articulates the staggeringly successful playwright's feminist position regarding the near-impossibility of true independence. Soule leads the strong cast with an excellent performance full of dynamic dips and soaring climbs all along the ride across America's great, flat expanse. Out there, surely, a woman could make her own destiny rather than choose among several undesirable and predetermined routes.
(Photo: Richard Termine)