Reviewed by Judy Richter
At first one can't be sure whose story will be told in "Lolita Roadtrip," being given its world premiere by San Jose Stage Company as a co-presentation with PlayGround. Eventually, though, playwright Trevor Allen connects their stories into a reasonably understandable whole.
The core of the story takes place in the present and belongs to Julia Martin (Chloë Bronzan), a Stanford University doctoral student doing her dissertation on Vladimir Nabokov. As part of her work, she follows the route that the author of "Lolita" and his family took in 1941when they drove from New York to his teaching job at Stanford. Joining her on the trip is Danny (Patrick Alparone), a young runaway hustler whom she meets in the library shortly before leaving.
Another major part of the story belongs to Paul Drake (Julian López-Morillas), a Stanford professor teaching a class about Nabokov and "Lolita." He also is concerned with his wife, Mary (Stacy Ross), who is dying of cancer at their home. Still another aspect deals with Nabokov (López-Morillas) and his fascination with and expertise in butterflies.
The focus shifts from one character to the next (fluid revolving set by Giulio Cesare Perrone), often with things up in the air but gradually revealing back stories that answer most questions. The ending features a twist that leaves one thinking back over the play to figure out how it fits in.
Expertly directed by Lee Sankowich, the cast is excellent. Bronzan's Julia seems strong-willed at first, but her vulnerabilities begin to emerge during the trip. Likewise, Alparone makes Danny a pushy but somehow likeable punk right away, but he becomes more multi-dimensional as more of his background is revealed. As Drake, López-Morillas is initially pompous as he lectures his class, but a more compassionate side is seen in his dealings with his wife. Mary is a character that could be developed better, despite her occasional monologues dealing with a treasured handmade quilt, which she wraps around herself like a butterfly's wings.
Still, Ross's considerable talents are used well as she portrays several other characters, such as a motel night clerk, tour guide in a cave, UFO enthusiast, Nabokov's wife and a police detective. López-Morillas also is seen as some other minor characters. The costumes are by Michele Wynne with lighting by Maurice Vercoutere and sound by Cliff Caruthers.
"Lolita Roadtrip" had its genesis about three years ago when PlayGround-San Francisco, a playwright incubator, commissioned it from Allen and helped him develop it. San Jose Stage subsequently became the first recipient of a grant from PlayGround's New Play Production Fund to present the two-act play. San Jose Stage also produced the world premiere of the Bay Area resident's "Tenders in the Fog" in 2005. His current play still needs some work, perhaps to cut some extraneous scenes, but already it reflects the work of an up-and-coming playwright.