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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
10 MILLION MILES
at the Atlantic Theater Company

ON THE ROAD
By Mervyn Rothstein

  Matthew Morrison and Irene Molloy

For the people who inhabit the singer/songwriter Patty Griffin's world, "the little dreams we dream are all we can really do."

Griffin's songs, a mix of folk, rock and country, have been recorded by other major artists, among them the Dixie Chicks - "Top of the World," "Truth No. 2," "Let Him Fly" - Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire and even Bette Midler. In reviewing a Griffin concert, the music critic Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote that her songs, which are rarely happy, are "full of lonely travels and painful separations, of forebodings and sad memories" - and often "tell stories about characters." So the idea of taking 15 Griffin songs and crafting a musical around them - a jukebox musical, to be sure, but one with a difference - must have seemed a natural. And, in many ways, it is.

The director is Michael Mayer and the venue is the Atlantic Theater Company, the same combination involved in helping to create Spring Awakening And while the result, 10 Million Miles, does not quite pack the excitement of Spring Awakening, it is thoughtful, enjoyable and sometimes moving.

Whatever problems exist lie largely in the musical's book, by the playwright Keith Bunin (The Busy World is Hushed, The World Over ), which sometimes seems artificially created to accommodate the music, and sometimes elaborates unnecessarily on points the music has already made. But on the other hand, it does have its moments, moments that gently engage and involve. And Griffin's music offers a strange but often compelling combination - it's both cerebral and infectious.

Bunin sets Griffin's work to the tale of a long road trip undertaken by two young characters - Duane, an ex-soldier, an auto mechanic whose true specialty is tall tales, and Molly, a recovering alcoholic who has discovered she is pregnant. The plan is to ride Duane's old Chevy pickup - the prime presence on Derek McLane's spare but effective set - from southern Florida to northwest New York State, traveling, as the show would have it, "with all your best-laid plans unraveling."

Duane and Molly had met around Thanksgiving, a time when she, drinking heavily and on a bender, was sleeping with many men. The two lose track of each other; a couple of months later, they accidentally meet again. She has learned she is expecting - and Duane may or may not be the father. She is no longer drinking and has decided to head up north to stay with an aunt, have the baby and give it up for adoption. Duane - "I make up stories; it's this little thing I do to pass the time while I'm wasting my life" - offers to drive her. "This trip," he says, "is going to change your life in so many ways." She hesitates, but accepts. They fall in love, then out of love. On the trip they encounter a passel of unusual and sometimes memorable characters - a waitress, a mechanic, Duane's mother, Molly's aunt, an older couple drunkenly waiting to be married.

The cast - Matthew Morrison (Fabrizio in The Light in the Piazza) as Duane; Irene Molloy (The Civil War) as Molly; and Mare Winningham (an Oscar nominee as a country singer in Georgia) and Skipp Sudduth (TV's Third Watch) as all the various men and women they meet - is uniformly excellent, both singing and acting.

But it is Winningham who truly shines. As Duane's mother, for instance - from whom he has fled and whom he hasn't seen in years, and who welcomes them and then throws them out because she is expecting her boyfriend - Winningham in a very few moments creates a rounded and affecting creature.

Her voice, perfectly attuned to the folk,

 


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