‘Autobahn’ combines humor, tragedy

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“It’s all the same you know,” began the production of Neil LaBute’s Autobahn, which ran Tuesday through Saturday last week. However, the play was anything but “the same.”

Autobahn premiered at the Little Shubert Theatre in New York March 8, 2004.

Director Abbi Lipsmeyer brought the production to UCA.

“Juniors are allowed to submit a proposal and the faculty goes through [the submissions]and decides what play to produce,” Lipsmeyer said. “I picked this because I can relate to a lot of the characters in it. I feel like Neil LaBute portrays emotions honestly.”

Autobahn takes place in seven scenes in the front seat of a car, with six cast members who are everything from a drug-addicted teen to two goofy male buddies.

LaBute seems very interested in word play – what words mean and how people understand them. Each scene involves a character pondering word use.

LaBute also excels at setting the scene without patronizing the crowd. With minimal set to play off of, the actors and actresses in the theater department did a phenomenal job. They had been practicing since the end of July and their hard work paid off onstage.

The Blackbox, in the Snow Fine Arts Center housed the play. A spot light in the small, dark room focused on two car seats and a steering wheel.

The intimate setting demanded intense focus from the performers. They handled the near-awkward closeness as if the audience wasn’t even there.

The first scene, “Funny,” showed a mother (Sharon Combs) bringing her troubled daughter (Kelsie Craig) back from yet another juvenile facility. The daughter’s defiant movements and speech realistically depicted the struggles of a troubled teenager. The mother did not speak throughout the scene, but her prudish facial expressions said it all. The daughter tried to be open with her mother but wound up being incredibly disrespectful.

“I know I’m going to relapse,” the daughter said, her eyes sliding across her mother’s face for a reaction.

The next scene, “Bench Seat,” told the story of boyfriend and girlfriend teetering on the edge of breaking-up or making-out. The girlfriend (Christa Whitlow) asked her boyfriend (Ryan Harvey Pearcy) as they kiss whether a break-up is imminent. She revealed her insanity by sharing a humorous, stalker story about her ex-boyfriend who had broken up with her at that very spot. After the story, the boyfriend was apprehensive to say the least and looked visibly uncomfortable and sweaty.

One of the more serious scenes, “Merge,” involved a woman (Craig) telling her husband (William Moon) of an attack by two or possibly more men in her hotel room. The husband was skeptical of his wife’s story; but in the end, the sadness of the truth showed heart-wrenchingly through the husband’s eyes.

“All Apologies” showed how a husband’s words can become almost too much. The husband (Pearcy) was apologizing to his wife (Combs) about calling her an unmentionable name. His apology, however, was peppered with choice words. Combs once again performs a silent role, and managed to express disgust and anger through her facial expressions.

During the following 10-minute intermission everyone seemed to be pleased with how the play was progressing.

Sophomore Stephanie Norris said she truly enjoyed the break from tradition.

“I find it more personal. I’m used more props and everything. With this you have to use your imagination,” Norris said.

“I thought Autobahn was well pulled off, if a little unbalanced. Moments were hysterically funny and moments made me want to crawl in a hole and die. It seemed that the despressing parts over-whelmed the comic relief. I love productions in a black box setting because they feel intimate. Autobahn definitely works well in that atmosphere because it doesn’t need huge set changes and room for movement. I mean, the whole thing is set in the front seat of a car. That made it cozy and creepy,” sophomore Trace Thurman said.

Next came “Long Division,” one of the more humorous scenes. A friend (Matthew Peoples) consoled his buddy (Pearcy) after a break-up. The friend believed his buddy should take back a Nintendo 64 that he says is rightfully his after the break-up. The scene centers around the funny nature of males.

The switch from this humorous scene to the darkest scene in the play was interesting. “Road Trip” is an intense look at the mind of a psycho driver’s education teacher (Moon), who kidnaps a freshman female (Whitlow). The scene is somewhat funny, but mostly disturbing.

The final scene is “Autobahn.” shows a couple, driving back from returning their foster child to the adoption agency because of the boy’s bad behavior. He has accused the father (Peoples) of sexual abuse. The mother (Combs) doesn’t fully understand the situation. The father said nothing, because he knows the truth. The mother’s relates life to the German autobahn, bringing the play full circle. She believes cars provide shelter from life, allowing people to guard themselves from the world. The car is like a protective bubble. As she puts it, people in cars are “too quick to stop, too fast to care.”

In the world of Autobahn, this is what life was like.

(Assistant Features Editor Amanda Terrebonne and Staff Writers Chaka Cumberbatch and Malony Boyd contributed to this article.)

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