The most interesting narrators are so often the unreliable ones. Without the pretense of omniscience, the narrative event invites its audience to investigate the very grounds on which the story is built. This is space with potential for real excitement.
During the seventy-five minutes that make up Lisa Kron’s solo performance, 2.5 Minute Ride, our narrator seems mostly trustworthy, appearing to stay within the traditional bounds of storytelling. But it is the moments when that reliability begins to break that 2.5 Minute Ride finds its most intriguing dimensions.
On the most basic level, 2.5 Minute Ride is a story of family and the construction of memory. Kron’s character is a woman in her forties trying to document the unique life experience of her elderly father. A Jewish child who survived the Holocaust despite his parents being killed at Auschwitz, her father moved to Ohio as an adult where he started a family and developed a love for riding roller coasters (the family’s favorite amusement park has a new wooden coaster whose trip is 2.5 minutes).
The show opens with Kron operating a slide projector, ostensibly casting family pictures on the stage’s back wall, but really showing us only blurry colored rectangles. Kron points out elements of the pictures that are supposed to be there—her family’s old car or the details of her mother’s clothes—but all we see are colors. The implication is that the memories Kron will be narrating are far clearer to her than they ever could be to her audience, and that underlying the performance is a struggle to capture the clarity inevitably lost through the vehicle of storytelling.
2.5 Minute Ride’s story moves around abruptly through several narrative tracks. The primary track—or at least the framework for the other tracks—is Kron at the slide projector. She tells us about her project to make a documentary film about her father’s life, from his youth under Nazi oppression in Poland to adulthood in Ohio to his current old-age as a mostly blind and mostly deaf elderly man who loves to ride roller coasters. His is a unique story, and Kron’s character feels a duty to document it.
As Kron moves to different stage spaces, she moves into different tracks of her story. In one track, she tells us of recently taking her father on a trip to his home town in Poland, and then to Auschwitz and other camps. The narrative is at once moving and charming: Kron relates that familiar experience of being more shaken by the cold physicality of the camps than she expected before arriving, but also of being chagrined as others look on while she loudly reads placards to her father, regularly struggling to pronounce German names.
From there, the narrative shifts to the story of her brother’s impending wedding and the family preparations. We learn here about Kron’s mother’s resistance to being photographed and how that complicates the urge for holding on to and sharing memories. In another track Kron narrates the extended family’s annual trip to their favorite amusement park and the difficulties of getting her father onto the roller coasters that he is now too short to ride.
And in yet another track we hear about the stories Kron’s father has related of his youth and his time in the military interrogating and sentencing ex-Nazis after the war. Here is where Kron is most revealing about her father and his psychological struggles. Growing up in Poland, his classmates were mostly Hitler youth, but he was free of that stain simply because he was “lucky enough to be born a Jew.” Since the ex-Nazis he interrogates were born and bred into the party, it seems that he and the war criminals he sentences are separated mostly by happenstance of birth.
The show is most compelling in the places where these tracks converge or, better, conflict. About halfway through the show, Kron as narrator breaks the pretense of the performance, questioning the motives and goals of her project. Her story is interesting and touching, and her father is unique and memorable, but is it so very different from the many other stories of Holocaust sufferers and survivors? In a certain sense, of course it is, as this is a story about one man and his family that are fundamentally different than everybody else, but in another important sense that the performance asks us to wrestle with, the story of Kron and her father blends into the cacophony of history’s stories, resulting only in blurry colored slides.
2.5 Minute Ride is most compelling when Kron engages directly the blurriness of faded history and imperfect narrative. The time between dwells a bit too long within a traditional storytelling framework to be entirely captivating. The story is interesting, but Kron’s in-show concerns about the narrative’s purpose are well-founded. It is the moments when she invites us to interrogate her character as not simply a daughter telling a story about her dad, but as a flawed narrator of questionable reliability struggling against the fadedness of memory, that Kron and her show are vivid and challenging.