When playwright Lisa Kron visits the Auschwitz death camp with her father, a Holocaust survivor, the experience is gut-ripping for her in several ways. His parents — her grandparents — were murdered by the Nazis, possibly here, after sending her father to safety in the United States at age 15. At Auschwitz, she’s as worried about him as she’s concerned for herself.
“What would I do if my father cries?” she asks in the script of her remarkable play, “2.5 Minute Ride,” intense, humorous and also searing in the current production at Theatre Horizon in Norristown. “I’ve never seen him cry.” But also on site is a group of visiting Israelis, history’s juxtaposition to the terrible darkness of this place. “The Israelis,” Kron says with irony, “are his safety valve.”
“2.5 Minute Ride,” with a sterling performance by Leah Walton playing Kron, is as much a play about irony as it is about anything else: The way that Kron, a gay and Jewish woman, connects with the present by making a video about her father’s past; how her family’s annual trek to Ohio’s Cedar Point (the self-named “Roller Coaster Capital of the World”) reveals her dad’s spirit to overcome his advancing frailty; the surprise that her brother’s Orthodox Jewish wedding, which she was almost dreading, becomes a real celebration for her and her partner.
Kron is the Tony-winning composer, lyricist and writer of the celebrated musical “Fun Home,” also a family story that involves a father and his lesbian daughter. She wrote “2.5 Minute Ride,” a reference to a Cedar Point roller coaster, two decades ago – it’s a memoir that cleverly slips, in the narrative, between stories of Midwestern family life to the death camp and visit to Poland. As one-person plays go, “2.5 Minute Ride” has an unusually rational framework: Its narrator is presenting a slideshow about making the video about her father, and we’re there as part of the event. (In fact, there are no slides, just the gentle noise of slides rotating in Larry Fowler’s sound design, and subtle changes of light on a screen in Alyssandra Docherty’s lighting design.)
Leah Walton’s portrayal of Kron feels precisely like the script’s version of the playwright – sometimes irreverent, solid in its assessments of family culture, and thoroughly charming. No clears dots connect the theme park to the death, and Walton’s delivery doesn’t try to link them, under Elaina Di Monaco’s direction. But the emotional swings of “2.5 Minute Ride” – all of them well-earned in the show’s construction and Walton’s performance – allow us to sense the grand sweep of a life and ultimately, our lives, too.
“2.5 Minute Ride” runs through Oct. 29 at Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb St., Norristown. 610-283-2230 or theatrehorizon.org.