Written by Brenton Lengel; Directed by Eric Parness
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 8.3.14
The Beckmann Theatre at American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street
by Shoshana Roberts on 7.19.14
Tim Dowd and Adam La Faci in North to Maine. Photo by Kacey Anisa Stamats.
BOTTOM LINE: Journeying through 14 states is no easy feat for these delightfully complex characters as they face physical and mental barriers on the Appalachian Trail.
I must say, the beginning of this show made me nervous. Seats with torn fabric covering them and a slow starting pace had the run time of two and a half hours flashing in my head. Expecting the worst I made myself comfortable and watched as my interest mounted. Slow and steady wins the race with the tortoise and the hare and that proves true once again in North to Maine.
The Appalachian Trail is a footpath from Georgia to Maine which goes through fourteen states and is 2,180 miles long. “Thru-hikers” attempt to finish the length of the trail in one season, either going South to Georgia or North to Maine. People find themselves following the trail for a multitude of reasons, yet almost all agree it is a life-changing experience. Playwright Brenton Lengel was one of those thru-hikers and he created this piece as a composite of his own experiences as well as those he encountered on the trail.
First we meet Adam (Tim Dowd), a newbie to hiking who seems to always run away from his problems. His subtext is similar to Dorothy's in Oz: “Bears and snakes and psychos, oh my!” Along the way Nick, a.k.a. Creature Man, (Adam La Faci) is there to offer advice: “Ounces make pounds; pounds make pain.” Added to the band of misfits is wounded Vietnam veteran Kevin (Michael Raymond) and jazz singer/former marine Rock-Stabber (Winston Shaw). The best comedic moments were when I began to hear singing: it always prefaced one of Rock-Stabber's entrances. As the most annoying of the group, Rock-Stabber was greeted with groans by Adam, Kevin, and Creature Man, but he was my favorite of the bunch. The energy, commitment, and fun Shaw brought to the stage rivaled only that of my fondest memories of Yogi Bear. Finally there is the rare and alluring female, Alice, a.k.a. Juice-box (Samantha Rivers Cole). With a twenty percent finishing rate these hikers spend time together and alone battling weather, wildlife, the need for water and shelter, and the lives they are all taking a break from.
Insider information is thrown around a lot in this script, for example a "register" at different locations along the way which allows people to share stories and updates about their treks. A lot of these terms were not words I was familiar with in this context, but due to the protagonist being new on the trail those of us in the audience who might not be in the know are able to hear the explanations of the trail secrets and stay up to speed with the action.
Just like there are unspoken bonds between different groups of people, it turns out hikers have a strange yet endearing community of their own as "hikers take care of hikers." The subject material in the play speaks to hikers, rock-climbers, nerds, nature lovers, and the like. With incredible character arcs this well thought out script was a great tool for the actors who take hold of their parts and run with them. There is a bit of nudity, but not without reason. I mean with tensions mounting, who can predict what happens in the wilderness?
(North to Maine plays at The Beckmann Theatre at American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street, through August 23, 2014. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 3PM with additional performances on Tuesday, July 22nd and Tuesday, July 29th at 7PM. Tickets are $15 and are available at smarttix.com or by calling 212-868-4444.)