2.5 Minute Ride is not an easy play to produce. Lisa Kron's autobiographical one-woman play doubles as a scalding standup routine and a love letter to her father, a Holocaust survivor. Its blend of black comedy and real-life tragedy demands that its director and star strike a balance between overwhelming scenes set at Auschwitz and lighter moments when Kron jokes about everything from her mother's fear of being photographed to her father's arguably life-threatening obsession with roller coasters.
Directed by Jane Unger, Profile Theatre's new production of 2.5 Minute Ride juggles those seemingly contradictory parts with grace to create an uproarious and cathartic whole. The first play in Profile's season of Kron's work, it also offers a spectacular showcase for the talents of actress Allison Mickelson, whose thrilling charisma lends weight to the play's meditation on survival, grief and familial love.
Ride begins with Lisa (Mickelson) on a stage comprising little more than a plywood floor and a brick wall. As she moves swiftly through this minimalist world, she reflects on growing up gay and Jewish. But the play mostly concentrates on three defining moments in her life: her brother's wedding, a trip she and her father took to Auschwitz, and a family excursion to the notorious Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio.
The Cedar Point portions of the play give Lisa plenty of opportunities to roast her family—after all, what else can you do but laugh in disbelief when your father insists on riding a roller coaster called the Magnum right after he's popped a nitroglycerin pill? Ride is packed with affectionate jabs, all of which Mickelson sells with irrepressible kinetic energy. She sweeps across the stage and underlines each joke with gestures so emphatic that her hands practically qualify as supporting actors.
There are a few times when the play's sense of humor becomes overbearing. It may be hilarious when Lisa mocks bawling audience members at a screening of Little Women or unleashes a gag about Polish pizza—which she describes as a combination of ketchup, cheese and toasted bread—but there are moments when the jokes either don't land or feel like a distraction from the story of Lisa and her father.
Yet 2.5 Minute Ride eschews silliness in favor of sincerity when it counts. As subtle lighting shifts transport us from Ohio to Auschwitz, the play immerses us not only in Lisa's mourning for slaughtered relatives she never met, but in her father's painful reckoning with his survival. Particularly impressive is a scene in which Mickelson adopts a flawless German accent to play Lisa's father in a flashback where he interrogates a Gestapo agent—a man, he comes to realize, not so different from him.
There are multiple moments in Ride when Lisa mentions her father's belief that it was fortunate he was born Jewish—if he hadn't been, he says, he doesn't know if he would have had the strength to stand up to the Third Reich. It's a sobering revelation to hear, but it is also underscores what makes the play so powerful: its insistence on the importance of loving people in spite, and even because, of their imperfections, whether they involve moral confusion or even an unhealthy love of the Magnum.
SEE IT: 2.5 Minute Ride is at Profile Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 503-242-0080, profiletheatre.org. 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday and 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 9-11. $20-$38.