“The Way West” at Marin Theatre

Financial failure gets funny at Marin Theatre1430235326MTC_WayWest_Hallett_Darragh_Zdan_1_LoRes.jpg

Disastrous credit card debt, looming home foreclosure and general monetary incompetence gang up on the family at the heart of Mona Mansour’s The Way West, now at Marin Theatre.  They just can’t get a break.

And it’s a comedy.

Well, it is, sort of.  More on that later.  The play is set (no surprise) in the West, somewhere in California, in “a town that’s seen better days,” the playbill informs us,  suggesting we think Modesto or Stockton if we need to get specific.  The time is the present, though clichéd notions of the past–our “glorious” pioneer West–abound in the skewed imagination of the Mom of the family, who addresses us from the porch of her ranch-style house with a tall tale about the gumption of those daring immigrants of yore.  She’s a romantic, whom a reality check–the Donner Party, for example–doesn’t faze.  A gal with the spirit of the old West coursing in her veins can conquer all, can’t she?  Even if she can’t pay her bills?

One of her grown daughters, the flighty, defensive Meesh, has helped Mom dig the hole she’s in.  The other, Manda, has flown in to help her out of her financial bind.  Manda seems grounded and capable, until we learn she’s in deep credit card debt herself and may have blown her job through a thoughtless maneuver.  A fourth woman, the artily dressed, starry-eyed pal, Tress, hasn’t helped things by borrowing thousands from Mom for a “magic water” scheme that’s about to fall through.

What a quartet!  A fifth cast member, a financial advisor named Luis, who was once Manda’s boyfriend and still has the hots for her, doesn’t help much.  The best he seems able to do is to tell Mom she’s about to get booted from her home.

And then PG&E shuts off the lights and gas.

I enjoyed the first act of The Way West.  It was relaxed and genial, and though the comedy was spotty, and I couldn’t quite tell where things were headed, I was generally pleased.  But by the time the play wandered to its conclusion in act two, i didn’t mind waving good-bye.  The playbill quotes a reviewer of its first incarnation, in Chicago, who called it, “a goofy tailspin of a play.”  Its denizens are goofy, all right, but “tailspin” is a term for the trajectory of a plane that’s about to crash.  The Way West succeeds in making a soft landing but not a memorable one, and when you’re walking away from its wayward flight, you’re not likely to remember much of the journey.

There are pleasures, nonetheless.  The performers fill their roles nicely.  Stacy Ross turns Tress into a small comic masterpiece–she’s a kick–and Anne Darragh’s Mom is likably off-base; you might even enjoy palling around with her, as long as you keep your hands on your wallet.  Katherine Zdan creates a sparky Manda–she’s a smart comidienne.  Long-limbed Rosie Hallett is amusingly unpredictable as she charges about like a colt who hasn’t found her legs, and Hugo E. Carbajal is very funny as a pizza guy who refuses to back down.

Hayley Finn directs capably, aided by a fine support team: Geoffrey M. Curley (set), Masha Tsimring (lighting), Brendan Ames (sound) and Christine Crook (costumes).  Sam Misner and Megan Pearl Smith wrote the songs that punctuate the tale.

The Way West plays in Mill Valley until May 10th, followed by Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy.  Marin’s 2015-16 season sets out in September with Sarah Ruhl’s The Oldest Boy.  For tickets/information call 415-388-5208 or visit