Trip, indeed. Jump-Start’s intensely watchable production of Chuck Squier’s coming-of-age/road play Trippin’ to Momma’s is deceptively simple in its staging. The background of increasingly dark-gray rectangles within rectangles on the theater’s back wall at first calls to mind a basketball court, with its large road signs on either side standing in for backboards.
A car constructed of what appears to be sprayed-silver cardboard sits stage center with working headlights and the novel detail of windshield wipers. (The doors, however, are pantomimed.) Not much to look at, at first, but I have always thought that as much as extravagant scenery can add, a show lives or dies on performances and not paint, and Billy Muñoz and Daniel Jackson together keep Trippin’ well off of life support.
Squier’s semi-autobiographical play about two men’s series of road trips to the Valley to visit one of their aging mothers was previously performed in 2006 as a double-feature with As Filthy as it Gets.
Director Robert Rehm’s production begins with a wonderfully coordinated video of a hitchhiker running toward the road, and an onstage human, Gary (Jackson), jumping into nerdy, closeted
Henry’s (Muñoz) silver vehicle. (Just suspend your disbelief and imagine the whole hitchhiker thing is safe.) Lucky for Henry, Gary is not a ruthless killer but a fellow college student with the style of, say, Johnny Depp. He’s on the road because he’s just broken up with his “douche” of a boyfriend.
It is the first journey of many, over the course of which Henry will make some major discoveries and cope with serious losses. We learn all of this through the vast, pregnant-pause-packed conversations that take place on the road with Gary.
Trippin’ to Momma’s only hits roadblocks at scene transitions (which occur in the first act far more often than the second), when the space goes nearly black and music signals the stagnancy or passage of time. The ’80s and ’90s music is fantastic — just try not to wiggle in your seat — but the frequent pauses in Act I regularly alienate the viewer from the emotional through line.
Muñoz and Jackson have an easy way with one another, dialogue flows naturally, and both fake high nicely. The material they’re working with feels true. (I say with gusto, despite the fact that Squier mentions in his program notes that among his playwriting tools is what I consider one of the most irritating books of all time, The Artist’s Way. What do I know? It obviously works out sometimes.) I loved what a sense of Momma I got through the discussions, how I had a visual of her even though she was never manifest onstage. I could even imagine what her voice was like. She will make you laugh; she will make you cry — oh, and you will — but Momma is definitely worth the trip. •
Trippin’ to Momma’s
Through Jun 22
108 Blue Star