By Mona Mansour
Directed by Amy Morton
At Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
Trying to be a wryly, sardonic comedy but playing as a silly dysfunctional family saga, The Way West is a downer
I’m not sure what playwright Mona Mansour and director Amy Morton were striving for with The Way West? From the opening song (cowboy songs by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen), we hear Mon (Deirdre O’ Connell) singing about the pride and strength of being a “Trainblazer” who settled the West after trekking to California. Mom sees herself as a tough pioneer whose fully embraced the spirit of manifest destiny and the strong optimistic belief that things will always workout for the best. Mom believes that Westerns are inherently better than any other Americans.
This non-funny comedy, especially sprinkled with several poorly sing cowboy songs, is an unfocused story of a mother and her two daughters who are non empathetic, losers whose every action seem to become more disastrous than the last. Mom is totally oblivious to her circumstances; she is broke, facing bankruptcy with a blaze indifference. She resorts to incoherent anecdotal stories from the wisdom of the pioneer spirit that she spouts as her personal mantra. Together with the wacky songs, these frontier homilies , while trying to be sardonic , only serve to drive audiences further away from caring about the three loser women.
Playwright Mona Mansour is determined to present us with a delusional mom and her two daughters, one of which, Meesh (Caroline Neff) is a dysfunctional failure who resorts to online fraud and other petty schemes that only plunges Mom further into debt. Manda (Zoe Perry) arrives from Chicago to help Mom sort out her finances. Manda is successful as a grant writer for a non-for-profit. As she tries to aid Mom and indirectly Meesh, she catches the family disease – she get down-sized and her credit cards get shut down. Welcome back to the family!
As this weirdly downer continues, one disaster after another besets these women – mostly due to their indifference or their penchant to always make the wrong decisions. Mom lends the get-rich quick friend, Tress (Martha Lavey) thousands for a “miracle water” biz opp that, of course fails. There is a house fire, Manda’s attempt to woo her ex-boyfriend back and the impending foreclosure of mom’s home as things continue to slide downward as these losers continue to lose. I just don’t see the humor in a group of women who are so incapable of helping themselves. Add those weird pioneer stories form Mom with those irritating cowboy songs, and The Way West becomes a tedious bore. On the opening afternoon performance, little laughter could be heard and no one gave the show the traditional standing ovation, only a polite short applause. It was obvious that the audience never got engaged into the work. This work was a confusing glimpse into folks who failed to grab their share of the American Dream .
The satire didn’t garner enough bite to be funny, the stories and songs became irritating. Since we never relate to these losers, we ultimately lose by spending two hours with them. With all the resources that Steppenwolf possess, you’d hope they’d select a finer play to mount. The Way West cover much yet resolves little as it beats up a group of losers whose self-delusion is at our expense.
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For more info checkout The Way West page at theatreinchicago.com
At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, Call 312-335-1650,www.steppenwolf.org, tickets $20 – $78, Tuesday thru Sunday at 7:30 pm,Wednesday matinees at 2 pm, Saturday and Sundays matinees at 3 pm, Running time is 2 hours with intermission, through June 8, 2014