Cynthia is the last person you'd want to take on a road trip. She's an older woman, a germophobe and a constant nag. She's never been anywhere, never wanted to go anywhere, and to top it all off, her husband died recently. Who in her right mind would want to drive Cynthia from Connecticut to Chicago?
How about a spunky, tattooed young party girl? How about Maddie, her daughter's best friend?
Harps & Harmonicas is a very funny play, and when Linda Escalera Baggs won the Mountain Playhouse International Comedy Playwriting Contest in 2005, she absolutely deserved it. If the script has one weakness, it's the title, which would better fit a musical about leprechauns than a sharp drama about female-bonding and generation gaps. Harps is the latest installment in an all-American genre: the redemption-by-road-trip comedy. But Baggs' script gets a lot of mileage, and the road takes some unexpected turns.
The plot in brief: Cynthia has to pick up a concert harp and deliver it to her daughter's house, in Illinois. Maddie and Cynthia have known each other for years, but they don't really know each other. They expect a whimsical three-day ride, but it stretches into a full-week odyssey of dumpy hotels and nit-picky arguments. Cynthia is a devout small-town Catholic, and Maddie is a veteran of foreign tequila binges. This is a match made in Purgatory, and the only way to save their odd relationship is by telling some Deep Dark Secrets.
South Park Theatre has once again accepted a noble challenge, and as the two leads, Joyce Miller and Adrienne Fischer are magnificent. Miller plays Cynthia with chirpy, non-stop patter, and her movements are precisely maternal. Fischer strikes a fine balance with Maddie, who isn't your run-of-the-mill bad girl. She's also smart, thoughtful, diplomatic and eloquent. Baggs shows how women interact, especially women divided by decades. This is no small feat in the male-obsessed world of theater. If the script is already lively, Miller and Fischer make it livelier.
This is a blessing, considering Allison Weakland's unfortunate direction. South Park has a very small stage, and Weakland struggles to keep her performers visible, what with constant human upstaging and the clutter of furniture. Harps is sectioned into eight scenes, and each takes place in a different hotel. The scene changes are a flurry of stage-hands and props, which slows the play's uptempo pacing. There is, shall we say, too much baggage. But during the scenes themselves, Miller and Fischer floor it.
Harps & Harmonicas continues through Aug. 28. South Park Theatre, Corrigan Drive and Brownsville Road, South Park. 412-831-8552 or www.southparktheatre.com.