Marc Wolf’s post-9/11 odyssey
The open road has always been ripe territory for cultural scrutiny and self-discovery. From The Odyssey to On the Road to Easy Rider , we’ve seen characters find themselves by looking beyond themselves. Obie Award winner Marc Wolf’s latest one-man play, The Road Home: Re-Membering America , which is getting its world premiere from the Huntington Theatre Company (at the Calderwood Pavilion through April 30), also centers on a road trip. But though the play opens with Wolf seeming to wax thoughtful about his epic cross-country journey and the interviews he conducted along the way, the performer’s own persona then disappears into the background, only to make a cameo appearance in a treacly moment at the end. This leaves you with little sense that he, as the architect and anchor of the project, came away with a clearer idea of his own role in the scheme of the nation than he had when he set out.
September 11 triggered the journey around which the performance is woven. As he did in his breakout solo performance, Another American: Asking and Telling , which addressed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military, Wolf employs the interview-based, role-jumping style of Anna Deavere Smith. Here he presents a roughhewn pastiche of Americans, all of whom he interviewed in the days following the calamity. Wolf, a New Yorker, was marooned on the West Coast, so he bought a tape recorder, rented a car, and spoke to a hodge-podge of people he encountered on his way home about their thoughts and activities in the wake of 9/11. Clad in dark, generic street clothes, the performer plays each of the 21 subjects he presents — sometimes two at a time. Under David Schweizer’s kinetic yet steadily paced direction, he imbues each character with an accent, a gesture, an expression, or a mode of physical comportment. Judy is a distrustful conspiracy theorist in a ghost town in Nevada; Raja runs a healing center and has elaborate myth-inspired notions about why New York was targeted; an Indian dentist in Mississippi muses on how Islam was hijacked on September 11. Wolf also incorporates his interaction with a German hitchhiker in the Midwest whose criticism that American life is “so fast, so bad” provides a sharp counterpoint to others’ musings about opportunities and freedoms obliterated by the tragedy. And he positions the country’s historic divides: there’s a visitor to Memphis’s Martin Luther King Museum and a Native American activist who wants to know why so little attention has been paid to the bio-terrorism she feels has been inflicted on her people. Although his characters often feel like stereotypes, they do offer insights into how race, ethnicity, and sexuality factor into Americans’ identities, even in the wake of shared trauma. But Wolf’s effort to “re-member” (the opposite of dismember) America yields a national portrait so sprawling, it leaves us feeling not more united but a long way from home and one other.
, Huntington Theatre Company, Anna Deavere Smith, Marc Wolf