‘Sixty Miles’ Takes Us On Moving (And Hilarious) Journey (4.5 Stars)

‘Sixty Miles’ – Written by Dan LeFranc; Directed by Shana Gozansky. Presented by Bridge Repertory Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., Boston through March 1st.

When I was growing up fatherless in the sixties, I often lamented that things would have been so much better had my dad had stayed in my life rather than heading for the West Coast and never returning. Given the scope of my father’s issues, that was much more of a fantasy than what the reality would surely have been, but in hindsight, I wish I had seen a more realistic depiction of how my life could have looked rather than having only episodes of ‘Leave It To Beaver’ to compare it to. Bridge Rep’s moving and often hilarious production of ‘Sixty Miles’ shows us one such portrayal of a relationship between son and Bitter Divorced Dad, in a series of car rides that explore a lot of common themes that children of divorce would (unfortunately) recognize – with a little extra weirdness on Dad’s part thrown in to keep us fully engaged.

The seventy minute one act takes place entirely in the car, with Dad Ky (Barlow Adamson) and son Denny (Kristian Sorenson) driving to Dad’s apartment for the weekend following the boy’s soccer practice. The initial conversation is probably not unlike those in the aftermath of any messy divorce between a couple of less than mentally healthy parents – lots of Mom bashing, with the weekend father trying to maintain some control over the kid’s life – which makes you wonder where the narrative is going to go.

As it turns out, the narrative doesn’t really change significantly, but the characters do. It soon becomes apparent that this is not a single car ride, but a series of rides over a period of years from when Denny was in elementary school through high school graduation. The conversations are randomly shuffled throughout the play and aren’t linear, so we get 15 year old Denny talking about a new girlfriend followed by 10 year old Denny telling his father about his aspirations as a soccer player to 16 year old Denny defending his mother from his father’s attacks on her moral character. We also get Dad talking to his kid about sex in ways that mental health professionals would find incredibly inappropriate but the audience (particularly me) found hysterically funny.

What makes such exchanges so funny is that playwright Dan LeFranc has such a great ear for dialogue, one which completely disregards political correctness in order to capture the language of a somewhat messed up teenaged boy. He is equally masterful at conveying the awkwardness of the botched communication from a Dad that just doesn’t know how to connect to his own son. One of the really effective devices LeFranc uses is the repetition of phrases throughout the play, so when Denny says “I so wish you weren’t my Dad” as often as Ky repeats “You’re my sun and my moon and my stars” you know that what their saying does not necessarily align with their true feelings.

It’s not until late in the play that the series of events leading up to the breakup are connected for us, but by then we’ve gotten a pretty well-drawn portrait of not only how the divorce came about but how all three parties have dealt – or not dealt – with it. The acting and direction are superb, and the coordination of lighting, sound, and the players is deceptively precise. As Denny, Sorenson does a brilliant job of transitioning from pre-pubescent kid to defiant young man in the 30 or so vignettes in the play, and Adamson is equally good at portraying Ky’s various incarnations – from serene Christian to an early scene where he maniacally drives away from what I’m guessing was revenge on his ex-wife’s lover.
I saw the production late in the run and it’s now closed, but I eagerly await Bridge Rep’s upcoming production of Julius Caesar, which is being billed as “100% certified toga free.”