An adventure along life's road

Wednesday, October 29
GREAT BARRINGTON — There is a gentle, unassumning grace that settles over the characters in Joan Ackermann's "Marcus is Walking: Scenes From the Road," which is making a third return visit — fourth overall since its premiere in 1997 — at Mixed Company, where this generally ingratiating vehicle of 10 vignettes, each set in a car, is parked through Nov. 23.

Even at moments of despair — the dry-mouthed anxiety of a parolee on a ride to freedom through the desert of the American West, or a depressed businessman whose relationship with a homeless woman he allows to spend her nights in the back seat of his car takes on a different texture in the aftermath of his wife's unexpected and sudden departure from their marriage — Ackermann brings her characters to a point of promise, of reassurance.

  • "Marcus is Walking" begins with a married couple trying to find their way to an important dinner party being given in honor of the husband, who is convinced they are late and lost, while his wife navigates with a system that is uniquely her own.

    "Marcus ..." ends with a family outing in search of New England autumn foliage to show to a newly arrived French exchange student, Jean-Luc, who speaks not a word of English and is the only one having a good time. Jean-Luc is wedged in the back seat of the family vehicle while mom drives and chatters on to a disgruntled and controlling husband, a Goth daughter who sees only death and bleakness in nature's blaze of autumnal colors, a bored younger son and his sleeping, flatulent grandmother.

    But beneath the banality of the conversations and situations, Ackermann's characters are navigating the shifts, often rough, in human relationships, and interpreting the road maps of getting together, being together, staying together.

  • Despite a certain sluggishness and loss of momentum through the opening two vignettes of the second half — one involving the parolee, the other the businessman and the homeless woman — this version of "Marcus is Walking" is more finely tuned and sure of itself than its preceding versions.

    Ackermann has eliminated a solo dance from the second act which not only helps tighten "Marcus," but gives added luster to tuxed-up Thom Whaley's whimsical "Steppin' Out" in the first half.

  • Ackermann directs with a gentle hand and her fine cast — Whaley, Adam Sugarman, Emma Dweck, Rudi Bach and especially Karen Lee and Anne Undeland — respond with masterly skill and insight.

    Of particular note are "Parling" and "Downshift."

    "Downshift" — whose final line provides the collective title for these playlets — is an affectionate coming-of-age tale in which Sugarman plays a father driving his 6-year-old son around on his Trick or Treat rounds and phones back reports of the boy's experiences to a nervous mom at home.

    In "Parking," perhaps the evening's most affecting scene, Sugarman returns as a single young adult named Henry, who is on a date nwith a co-workler, Lisa (Lee). The setting is the back seat of Henry's car where he and Lisa are getting dressed after have just made love for the first time.

    Clearly, it's not the setting Lisa hoped for.

    As Henry promises a more romantic setting "next time," It is equally clear that for Lisa there is little likelihood of a next time. And then, Henry tells a wary, cautious, untrusting Lisa he loves her and while there is no certainty he means what he says as he begins his declaration, the stakes have shifted.

    As Henry bends down to search for a lens that has fallen out of his glasses, there is no mistaking his intention. It's one of those small moments that speaks volumes about truth and authenticity as we navigate that tricky, winding back road known as life.

    To reach Jeffrey Borak:; (413) 496-6212.


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