Emily A. Cregg ’09 and Michael B. Hoagland ’07 enjoy a moment behind the wheel in “Bench Seat,” in the opening mini-drama of Neil Labute’s “Autobahn” which will run until Dec. 16 in the Loeb Experimental Theatre.
“Nobody knows the trouble that I’ve seen.”
This lyric is emphasized in the music that opens Neil Labute’s
“Autobahn: A Play Cycle,” and it suggests a major theme of the new Loeb
Experimental Theatre show: within the private confines of an
automobile, conflicts spanning the full range of human emotions can
emerge between two people.
Produced by Veronica T. Golin ’07 and Stephen T. Volpe ’07,
“Autobahn” takes as its stage the front seat of a car; a series of
short dramas reveals five couples at critical moments in their
relationships. “Autobahn” is a character-driven play in several senses
of the word, and its tight focus on the relationships it depicts in
each piece results in a truly intense 90 minutes.
Director Adam G. Zalisk ’07 has brought a show to the Ex that
often seems like a cross between a reality TV show and an edgier,
grimmer version of the movie “Crash.” Running through Dec. 16,
“Autobahn” strives to describe the lives of ordinary people and the
ties that bind them together. At the same time, it offers a social
commentary on these lives in the issues that each couple face. Although
“Autobahn” occasionally lacks sufficient development, it succeeds in
presenting isolated conflicts and relationships with intensity and
The actors of “Autobahn” succeed most in their capacity for
revelation. Most of the dramatic tension in each play revolves around
the exposure of the “story” behind each couple’s relationship that has
created the current crisis, and the actors excel at gradually conveying
that explication over the space of twenty minutes in a car seat.
For instance, in “Road Trip,” the central piece that depicts a
disturbing relationship between a high school girl and an older man on
a cross-country journey, Jason M. Lazarcheck ’08 skillfully depicts his
character with an affability that makes him all the more chilling,
acting like a benevolent father-figure while delivering lines that
increasingly suggest his character is anything but.
Relative newcomer Emily A. Cregg ’09 is also at her best in
“Road Trip.” Cregg displays a level of sensitivity as the vulnerable
high school student that doesn’t appear in her caricatured appearance
in the initial mini-drama, “Bench Seat,” as a teenaged girlfriend with
As the reluctant boyfriend in “Bench Seat,” Michael B.
Hoagland ’07 brings the same aw-shucks, ingenuous façade to his
character that he had in this fall’s Mainstage play, “The Marriage of
Bette and Boo.” The HRDC veteran’s somewhat one-dimensional
performance, although comical, occasionally falls flat in “Bench
Seat”–but Hoagland’s presence becomes exponentially more powerful and
direct in his second appearance, in the drama “Merge.”
Lillian Ritchie ’08 also performs commendably in “Merge” as a
businesswoman who attempts to explain a traumatic travel experience to
her increasingly upset husband (Hoagland). Ritchie presents a complex
character competently in this drama, presenting a believable mix of the
rational and irrational in her role.
Ritchie’s other major role is one of the best in the show. In
“All Apologies,” a one-sided conversation between a couple experiencing
troubles in their marriage, she delivers the single funniest monologue
of “Autobahn.” A mixture of rambling bluster, linguistic commentary,
and heartfelt apology, Ritchie manages to make her scene really come to
Sophie C. Kargman ’08 also turns in a solid performance as a
foster mother facing failure in “Autobahn,” the eponymous final piece
of the play. Like many of the other actors, Kargman’s performance
occasionally lacks momentum, seeming to ramble for long periods without
character development. Nonetheless, Kargman brings a strong personality
to her role that makes it comically superficial, yet ultimately deeply
The lighting, designed by Nicholas J. Shearer ’09, is highly
nuanced, suggesting the emotional tone of each mini-drama with varying
degrees of harshness. The music, chosen by sound operators Natalie J.
Peters ’09 and Jonah C. Priour ’09, is well-selected and enhances the
other aspects of the show nicely.
The set, designed by Lizzie J. Rose ’08, is visually
interesting without detracting from the drama. It primarily consists of
a group of TVs and a video screen that surround the central car seat;
videotapes of the actors explaining their personal thoughts and
opinions, reminiscent of reality TV, appear between mini-plays.
Given the set’s abundance of machinery, director Zalisk’s
decision to avoid fully exploiting all that technology in the show
seems quizzical. The TVs and screens mostly play a peripheral role,
taking a back seat to the conflicts between the actual characters.
However, Zalisk’s choice is ultimately for the best, as the dramatic
tension between each couple is gripping by itself; the interference of
too much inhuman technology would be distracting.
The effect of “Autobahn’s” intense focus on the conflicts
between its characters tends to evoke a feeling of inertia: it presents
snapshots of the various stages in a relationship rather than the
journeys in between. Nonetheless, each snapshot of “Autobahn” presents
a compelling portrayal of these relationships: a significant
achievement in itself.
—Reviewer Mary A. Brazelton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org