Americana -- once a thriving preoccupation of the theater -- barges its way into the spotlight as Little Lake Theatre dusts off Years Ago, an autobiographical play by Ruth Gordon.
Though written in 1947, the play is set 35 years earlier, in Quincy, Mass. It tells the story of Ruth Gordon Jones and her determination to convince her rock-ribbed, utterly unmovable, former-sea-captain father that she should be allowed to pursue her dream of appearing on stage as an actress. (Always the last words a parent wants to hear coming out of a child's mouth.)
We know how the story ends. Gordon made it to New York and then to Hollywood -- but as the writer, along with her husband, Garson Kanin, of such classic films as Adam's Rib and Pat and Mike. She wouldn't really become known as an actress until her later years, with famous performances in Rosemary's Baby and Harold and Maude.
Years ago, plays like Years Ago -- with its loving look at a simpler time -- were considerably more common: Life With Father, I Remember Mama, Ah, Wilderness. I can't really say that Years Ago is going to dim the memory of those plays anytime soon. For although there is some initial interest in little Ruthie's bright passion and the quaintness of the time period and its customs, there isn't really a lot that happens in the play, and Gordon takes a considerable amount of time to make it not happen. She overloads the beginning with an enormous amount of exposition that, as it turns out, is not needed. And, on the other end, just when you think the play is over, a new scene suddenly pops out of nowhere.
But let me be clear: None of the writing here is bad; often, it rises to the level of insightful. It's just that there's far, far too much of it. You could easily cut out 40 minutes with no ill effects.
I give a lot of credit to the designers who've managed to create the right period look for the show. Director Carol Lauck moves her fine cast through the show with dispatch; Lexi Alioto couldn't be more charming as Ruth, and her confrontation scenes with her dad, played strongly by Bill Bennett, form a potent, emotionally complex island in the middle of this script.
It's just a shame we have to wade through a lot of still water to get there.
Years Ago continues through July 24. Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South (off Route 19), Canonsburg. 724-745-6300 or www.littlelaketheatre.org