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The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite

by Judd Hollander & Sue Feinberg

Somewhere, there are men who drink beer, wear flannel shirts and blue jeans and drive around in pickup trucks looking for places to go and dragons to slay. It's all part of a hilarious male bonding experience that is The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite, a bittersweet comedy with music.

Set at an undefined location in the Great American North woods, somewhere near the Canadian border, Joy of recounts the adventures of three unemployed loggers. Fifty-ish Raymond (Guy Boyd), the leader of the group, Merle (J.R. Horne), his sidekick and contemporary and Junior, (Jordan Lage--seen earlier this season in Heart of Man), a newcomer to the group and about twenty years younger.

Chased out of a pub at closing time, the trio notices a drunken stranger (Neil Pepe) hanging over the bar rail. Having nothing better to do, they toss him in the back of a pickup truck and go for a drive on a frozen lake. When the Stranger is accidentally shot, a note from the woman he loves stating that she has gone off in his car to be with "a big-armed feller" spurs Raymond to action. Proclaiming that "Every man's entitled to a woman and an automobile," he drags his friends on a mission of mercy to reunite the lovers. Their adventure brings unforeseen complications which we won't give away here.

Guy Boyd perfectly embodies Raymond, an aging, beer-drinking, song-singing, lecher with the soul of a poet. He's the kind of guy you'd love to spend a few hours with as he dispenses words of wisdom and sings songs like "a man without a woman is like an ax without a stone." His rambunctiousness masks a man filled with contradictions: He makes sure his friends behave and dress properly in front of a lady 30 years his junior, then he tries to seduce her (although he can't complete what he starts because she won't close her eyes). He puts down the thought of love and marriage, but he's terrified of being alone. The mission he embarks on is as much for just something to do as to reunite the lovers.

While Raymond is the play's orbit and the other characters function as satellites, they're all fine in their roles. Horne is good as the wise (and often asleep) Merle and Lage projects just the right amount of "why are you always picking on me" to the role. Dale Soules plays several characters perfectly, (including a singing nun), while Pepe is properly mysterious as the Stranger. Felicity Huffman, as Marie, the object of the quest, perfectly meshes with Raymond as another lost soul seeking salvation.

In a play like this a convincing sense of place is most important and everybody delivers flawlessly. This is especially true of the songs. Written for the show by Joshua Rosenblum and sung by Boyd, Horne and Lage, they perfectly set the flavor of the piece. With lines like "we're men without women, we're loggers without trees" and "we're the 'hard' of hardwood, we're the iron in the core," you'd expect to come across these tunes in the folk section of your local record store. Huffman and Soules also get to warble a tune or two.

Sets by Kyle Chepulis imaginatively come right out of the stage, lighting by Howard Werner captures the right tone for the many different locations. Costumes by David Zinn are good and sound effects by Daniel Barnhill realistically recreate everything from the opening of a door to the cocking of a rifle. Barnhill also doubles as one of the show's two musicians, along with musical supervisor Louis Tucci.

While the elements are all there, it's William H. Macy's direction that ties it all together. The pace moves swiftly as the trio moves from one situation to another. Coming in at 90 minutes, the play is tight enough to keep you from being bored and short enough to leave you wanting more.

The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite is not Shakespeare or Chekhov or even Tennessee Williams, but to its credit, it doesn't try to be. With a simple story and even simpler ending (a variation on "the more things change the more they stay the same" theme), it takes you on a fascinating journey to a place you may not want to live in, but you'd sure love to visit.

by Quincy Long
with Guy Boyd, J.R. Horne, Jordan Lage, Dale Soules and Felicity Huffman
Directed by William H. Macy
opens 4/07/97; closes 5/04--closing extended to 5/18

Judd Hollander and Sue Feinberg have covered the entertainment/travel/lifestyle beat for publications in London, Australia, New Zealand, Toronto and America. They have written several film and TV scripts.
©right April 1997, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.

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