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26 Miles
THEATER REVIEW
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2010-10-27

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Playwright: Quiara Alegría Hudes At: Teatro Vista/Rivendell Theatre Ensemble at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago. Phone: 773-334-7728; $15-$25. Runs through: Nov. 21

For a successful road trip, you want a reliable mode of transportation, food and shelter for rest stops along the way, and sufficient money to ensure access to same. Pleasant companions are also desirable, and a destination, too, however many delays or side-excursions may prove necessary to reach it. But a literary road trip requires, in addition, unresolved questions whose answers are revealed only after navigation of unknown territory has engendered the communality rendering their discussion safe.

Quiara Alegría Hudes' smartly articulate play has all of these elements, served up with the maturity, compassion and humor we expect from the author of In The Heights. Her pilgrims this time are an estranged daughter and mother: brainy Olivia, chafing under the tensions arising from her Anglo father's remarriage, and peppery Cubana Beatriz, whose second marriage is likewise undergoing a period of unrest. Since Western myth mandates a return to nature the remedy for all troubles, the two impulsively embark on a drive from Philadelphia to Wyoming in search of Yellowstone Park and the buffalo herds hitherto the stuff of pictures in National Geographic magazine.

And whattaya know? Secrets initially concealed are confided, woman-to-woman topics are broached, long-festering misunderstandings are exorcised, dreams deferred are fulfilled—not only for Olivia and Beatriz, as both struggle to forge a filial bond despite mutual inexperience regarding such relationships, but for the menfolk left at home, who must confront their own part in the events precipitating abandonment by the women upon whom they have come to depend. But though their progress encompasses only a bare 100 minutes of performance time, never does it feel rushed or contrived, so deftly and efficiently has Hudes packed each item in her text with an eye to equipping her characters for their journey to self-empowerment.

Tara Mallen's direction likewise allows the action to unfold gradually and seamlessly, each new discovery arriving in a flash—but never a blast—of illumination. An early publicity release incorrectly called this shared Teatro Vista/Rivendell Ensemble production a "Thelma and Louise" adventure. The emotion fueling Hudes' odyssey is not the anger that finds deliverance only in destruction, however, but a sensitive quest for the cosmological equilibrium so often emerging peripatetically from the simple act of Getting Away From It All.


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