‘Go That Way’ captivates with raw, refreshing energy

The cast of ‘Go that Way’ by Amanda Keating ’12 gave an enthused and engaging performance.  Photo courtesy of David Dashiell.
The cast of ‘Go that Way’ by Amanda Keating ’12 gave an enthused and engaging performance. Photo courtesy of David Dashiell.

Go That Way, a new play by Amanda Keating ’12, is about baggage. It’s about physical baggage, about all of the stuff that accumulates in the attic crawl space: broken board games and obsolete encyclopedias. It’s also about emotional baggage, about the memories and personal dramas we carry through life, those that keep us up at night and inform our interactions with the world and the people around us.

The play focuses on a group of four young adults, three siblings and one friend, who pack up a car and hit the road with the mission of finding their estranged father after their mother commits suicide. They are loaded down with stuff. The “car” is actually the family’s living room furniture – a brilliant choice in set design from Cate McCrea ’13 that communicates how stuck these kids are, regardless of their physical place.

It’s a play that asks if we can ever really escape the past, and refuses to tie up the answer with a nice little bow. In fact, the characters may not even have an answer. Significantly, the most repeated line in the play is “I don’t know.” It’s refreshingly true to life, but it’s also sad. Keating writes interesting characters into this play and the actors are charismatic and talented. Denny, played by Joseph Baca ’15, is sensitive and smart, but traumatized after having discovered his mother post-suicide. His brother Jim (Spencer McCarrey ’17) is full of life and energy, and his sister June (Jacqueline Lewy ’17) is fascinating,  tangling anger and affection into one explosive and tightly wound personality. Aaron (Jonah Levine ’17), their friend, is patient, kind and always helpful – repairing a broken car here, a broken relationship there. We like these characters; we want them to find the answers and escape the ghosts of their collective past.

Henrik Ibsen, a mid-19th-century playwright once said “Ghosts! … I almost think we are all of us ghosts. It is not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that ‘walks’ in us. It is all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs … They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same.” Keating seems to agree. “We’re all haunted by ghosts, and they live inside of us – and these characters are definitely grappling with the ghosts in themselves,” Keating said. In the car, the setting for the majority of the play, the characters play classic pop and rock that Keating says reflects “the cycles of nostalgia” that the characters are caught in. The projector playing in the background solidifies this effect. According to director Caitlin Sullivan, “All the [projector] stills are actually taken from road trip movies, something spare … I hope creates a kind of woozy nostalgia in the room.”

But there are notes of hope woven into the narrative (and the soundtrack). One song that plays an important role is “Will You Be There” by Michael Jackson, and its message, on the importance of love and family, resonates with the final message of the play. Although Keating doesn’t believe the characters’ “questions are really answered,” she does think that “in taking this trip and being with each other, they’re forced to see each other in the present for the first time. And this is kind of like moving on, even if the ghosts are still there inside them.”

The play is unfinished; Keating says she will be creating another draft in the fall and that this was a “workshop production.” While there are certainly parts of it that are a little awkward, part of what gives the play its energy is this very rawness. Lewy mentions that memorizing the constant revisions of a developing play was challenging. But she says that while she may have “messed up some lines” she was able to “get back on track with … improvisation.” Baca echoed this sentiment. “The words come out how they want to come out and that’s the nature of the beast, but I knew what my character’s intentions were and what they were trying to communicate and where the scene had to go,” Baca said. “I found that I could play with [his] beanie and backpack in certain ways to externally communicate what he was feeling internally.” These sorts of necessary adaptations provide invaluable experience and growth to young actors, which is what the Summer Theatre Lab is all about, and watching that growth in real time is incredibly exciting.

“What’s brilliant about Amanda’s text is that the story is so clear and the characters are so full, but there is also space for collaborators to come to the table,” Sullivan said. It’s this space that led to the development by Sullivan and McCrea of Sullivan’s favorite scene (also this writer’s) near the end of the play, in which all of the baggage is cleared from the stage by the characters. As they work together, the audience is able to see how they’ve become a family, and how they love and support each other.

It was enough to make me walk home with a goofy smile on my face.  What’s better than that?