April 22, 2010 at 4:49 pm EDT | by Patrick Folliard
A long ride home

For most teenagers, a longish drive alone in the car with mom or dad is tantamount to torture. It’s no less painful for some parents. Playwright Dan LeFranc’s “60 Miles to Silver Lake” (currently in production at The Studio 2ndStage) draws on this unpleasant vehicular phenomenon to explore a particularly prickly father/son relationship.

Every Saturday, divorced dad Ky (Chris Mancusi) collects his teenage son Denny (Andrew Sonntag) from the soccer field near his ex-wife’s house in Orange County and drives the 60 miles to his new place in Los Angeles for a joint-custody weekend. Sadly, a potential bonding experience that usually kicks off with some light banter typically devolves into an interrogation session rife with accusations, recriminations, and some below the belt hits.

Set entirely in the front seat of Ky’s Volvo, LeFranc’s quick-paced, 90-minute play spans Denny’s adolescence, shuffling scenes from the weekly commute that is an ongoing part of the characters’ lives. Literally trapped together, the father and son (who, incidentally, do love one another) are forced to awkwardly confront, if not work out, their mutual feelings of abandonment and hurt.

Through innumerable, non-chronological scenes, the broken family’s sad, familiar story unfolds: Infidelity, bitter divorce, and an only child placed uncomfortably in the middle of two feuding exes. During these drives, Ky’s never-to-be-resolved questions remain constant: Has his ex-wife found a job yet? Is she seeing anybody? Who’s going to pay for Denny’s pricey soccer club?

Sonntag’s pubescent Denny is too wide-eyed and babyish. He fares better as the older teen with his wonderfully disaffected body language and sidelong looks. As the boorish father, Mancuso is appropriately embarrassing — casually racist, sexist and forever curious about his son’s incipient sex life (“Got your fingers fishy yet, son?”). Now and then, Ky mortifies his son with bad animal impersonations. For Denny however, his father’s most egregious offense is finding Jesus and attempting to play Christian rock CDs on their 60-mile trips.

Staged by Studio’s gay associate producing artistic director Serge Seiden, the production’s design elements are simple but effective. Throughout the show, Denny wears a muddied soccer uniform while Ky is dressed in Dockers style office drag (compliments of designer Brandee Mathies). Luciana Stecconi’s set is the interior of a car backed by a wall of six, real Volvo rear windows. A haze hangs over the set, adding to the memory, time traveler qualities of the piece.

Seiden succeeds in drawing some incredibly authentic moments from his actors. And when the production moves away from the naturalistic and toward the dreamy, Seiden’s strong yet graceful touch is evident, bringing the work’s poignancy to the fore.

Lefranc’s seemingly commonplace dialogue is surprisingly compelling. And while the situation is stereotypical and could easily feel stale, it doesn’t. The joy and pain of the parent/child experience is so basic — a skillful retelling is always welcome.

‘60 Miles to Silver Lake’
Through May 29
Studio Theatre
1501 14th St., N.W.

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