Off the Map, by Joan Ackermann, is an offbeat coming-of-age story about 11-year-old Bo Groden during the summer her father was depressed and an IRS agent named William Gibbs came to audit her family. Bo and her eccentric hippie parents, Charlie and Arlene, subsist on the crops they grow, the animals they hunt and whatever household items they can salvage from the dump. Making only $5,000 a year, they have neglected to file their taxes for seven years because as Arlene admits, they didn't see the point.
Years ago, the play's female narrator tells us, William had found Arlene naked in the garden pleasuring herself while being aroused by a coyote. As Arlene later remarks to a family friend, George, "I think I would have come, just standing there, if William hadn't come by." William, though, fell in love with Arlene at first sight.
In this Little Lake Theater production, the scene transitions are sluggish. In fact, a few of the scene changes were longer than the typically brief scenes themselves. This made the 80-minute first act drag.
However, in defense of Sunny Disney Fitchett's direction, most of the pacing problems are a due to the script. In addition to choppy scenes, the play is narrated by the adult Bo, which further disrupts the flow. Much of what is revealed by the narrator could have been incorporated into the dialogue.
Although William, George and the Grodens attempt to tackle depression, unpaid taxes and unrequited love, Ackermann offers little insight into the characters. Off the Map never gets to the bottom of William and Charlie's depression. Arlene's upbeat optimism seems inapt as she pawns off clichés as pearls of wisdom; when William professes his love to Arlene, she attributes it to New Mexico being a powerful place, and never addresses it again. And although Bo's precociousness and energy are a welcome relief from the glum adults, the narration written for the adult Bo comes off as detached and cold.
The Little Lake cast does its best to compensate for the play's shortcomings. Julianne Avolio, Dale Irvin, Sam Miller, Mary Liz Meyer and Nathan Bell do a fine job, and Holly Brueggman shines as Bo.
Off the Map continues through Sat., July 25. Little Lake Theatre 500 Lakeside Drive South (off Route 19), Canonsburg. 724-745-6300 or www.littlelaketheater.org
Editor's note: This version of our review corrects an earlier, misleadingly worded, account of action that took place during the play.