By Claire DeMarco
Joe (Danny Bernardo) takes two cross country road trips twenty years apart – first with his soon-to-be wife Jenny (Marielle Young) and years later a repeat with his adopted daughter Lucy (Sammy Rat Rios).
Note: On stage the trips are not sequential but alternate between the first trip with Jenny and the second with Lucy.
Joe’s trip with Jenny from Washington D. C. to Portland, Oregon helps the couple develop a rapport, get to know one another since their pending marriage has been arranged.
One might expect the bride-to-be as shy, demure and quiet but the roles are reversed. Jenny is more modern, outgoing and relaxed. Nervous and insecure Joe attempts to hide his awkwardness by talking incessantly. He never stops rambling even when it is apparent that Jenny has fallen asleep in the car with her head bobbing on her chest.
As the trip progresses the couple learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
They finally arrive in Portland, Oregon!
Twenty years later Joe embarks on another trip. He picks his daughter Lucy up at the Washington D.C. airport. It doesn’t matter that she had a ticket to fly to Portland (which he cancelled without her knowledge). The trip doesn’t start off under the best of circumstances but Joe is determined to traverse the country with his daughter. His daughter is college age and Joe sees this journey as possibly the last adventure they’ll have together.
Bernardo is excellent as Joe, portraying him as a timid, talkative young man in his youth to a devoted father twenty years later. He is more physical and expressive in his later years and his comedic timing is spot on. Trying so hard to remain a part of Lucy’s world, his suggestion that “Maybe later we do some drugs” is hilarious.
Young is enticing as the bold, opinionated and sometimes not very nice Jenny. She is able to translate that characterization into several comedic scenes and saucy retorts. She is stronger than Joe. She knows it and uses it to her advantage!
As the adopted daughter, Rios develops her character from a young girl still under the influence of her father into a determined, ready-to-be adult who definitely has a mind and opinions of her own. She is anxious and determined to be independent. Rios translates that characterization perfectly.
Afterthought:: Perhaps Joe and Jenny’s American accents are meant to indicate that at this stage of their potential relationship they are speaking in their native tongue. Twenty years later their accents take on those of immigrants speaking English with a pronounced foreign-born cadence.
Also notable is how their clothing after twenty years reflects their development as immigrants. Joe has dropped his drab clothing, now wearing the most garish, flower printed shirt. Jenny reverts to her native-born country’s ethnic attire.
The set is minimal, but effective with a backdrop of an open sky with light changes reflecting different times of the day. Most of the scenes take place in the car but the characters are periodically out of the car at rest stops or tourist attractions.
“Young Americans” explores the experiences of immigrants to a new country over twenty years and how those experiences affect them.
Lauren Yee wrote a great play. This world premiere production had a healthy mix of serious conversations and a large dose of humor.
“Young Americans” runs from April 26 – May 14 at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA. For more information, click here.