Travels of Angelica proves a hard road to hoe

The next installment at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park comes to us by way of native playwright, Joseph McDonough, in his award winning play, ‘Travels of Angelica’, showing from January 20 through February 15. Playing in the spacious Robert S. Marx Theatre, the world premier of ‘Travels’ was this year’s recipient of Mickey Kaplan New American Play Prize.

McDonough’s story begins in 17th century England. The main characters, Alexander Crumpler and Lucia, his dim-witted teenage daughter, are forced to flee their homeland, due to supposed acts of sedition and an impending mob of discontents on the verge of sacking their home. By the skin of their teeth, Crumpler and his daughter evade their would-be captors, and board a ship due to set sail for the New World.

With the dimming of the stage lights and a quick scene adjustment, we are transported 350 years to the present day shores of Virginia. Vincent, an old man who spends his retirement years sitting back and gazing out to sea in the pursuit of catching a glimpse of his estranged wife who left him years prior, encounters two university students: Emma (a budding writer) and Matthew (a graduate student seeking the finality of his dissertation).

Both students are on the hunt for remnants of Crumpler and his manuscript — which he wrote in memory of his dead lover and Lucia’s mother, Angelica — and was supposedly buried some three centuries prior on the very shores that Vincent calls home. In the hopes of locating the manuscript, the two students enlist the help of Vincent (who, though somewhat aloof, is informative) and his disgruntled daughter, Gabby.

The two story lines in ‘Travels’ teeter back in forth between the past and the present throughout the production, revealing how indelibly connected history and the present are to each other. Presenting the scenes in such a compartmentalized manner, allows the past to be juxtaposed with the present – which was probably the director, Edward Stern’s intent — but as a consequence of this compartmentalization, the story line is herky-jerky and somewhat awkward to piece together at times.

McDonough and his historically accurate dialogue and poetic style of writing, carry the play to great heights, where the plot line at times could not. For those who clamor for a minimalistic set (two chairs, a bench and table) and a plot line with historical twists, this production is right up your alley. For those who require the unfolding of a linear storyline, ‘Travels’may prove hard to follow.