From a perspective of almost 30 years, the early 70s were nobody's favorite time, but as with anything, when you're there it's all you have. In Janyce Lapore's Ferris Wheel, four women gather in the picnic area of an amusement park in Pittsburgh. They're sisters and cousins, and they've grown up together and gone to school together, but that was several years ago. They are ostensibly celebrating Lisa (Nadine Miral)'s discharge from the hospital, but, as is the way of plays like this, they spend most of the time comparing the states of their lives. Old grudges, past victories and defeats, hopes and fears and dreams and, of course, confessions make up the bulk of the afternoon.
The style of much of the play (or of the direction) is to have several characters speaking simultaneously with dialogue overlapping, and particularly in these sections the performances had an improvisational feel to them. But just because that's how conversations are in life doesn't always mean they play like that on stage - here it often felt like the vocal equivalent of busy work and didn't add to the characterizations.
While the play has an interesting setup, some harrowing revelations, and even a full-fledged nervous breakdown, there isn't that much depth to it. Each character gets her moment of truth, but the characters were incomplete, in spite of the gallant efforts of the cast to give them some profundity. When Celia (Evelyn Caballero) reveals an instance where her life is not in as complete control as she lets on, or relates a humiliating episode from her college days, the character still seemed undeveloped. Toni (Kristin Smith) announced she is leaving to be a hairdresser in New York, but although it turns out she has announced this before, there's no information on why she never went, or an exploration of whether she really will this time.
Dylan Hundley as Babs, the heavy drinker of the bunch, and Miral as Lisa had fuller characters to wrestle with, but the script still didn't support them as it might. Hundley's drunken breakdown on the Ferris wheel was truly harrowing, and Miral's revelation of what led to her hospital stay and what happened to her there was quite disturbing, but even here, resolutions are pat, and everything is taken at face value.
The cast was terrifically costumed (uncredited), from dowdy to flashy, and all with that specific '70s aura. The Ferris wheel itself was simply yet ingeniously evoked (created by Lorelie Guttman), and the walls of the stage were painted with a terrific parkscape (set painting by Pricilla Smith and Marylyn Modny), which set the play quite beautifully. (Set design by Kristin Smith and Priscilla Smith.) Songs of the era complemented the action (sound design by Aural Fixation); bright daylight lighting by Ron Moreno.
These ladies have lived all their lives where they are, and the evidence is it's going to be tough to keep their equilibrium. One wished them well, even if one didn't quite believe everything will work out all right.
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Copyright 2000 David Mackler