Are we there yet? Jeff Daniel's takes us to the Promised Land


A man with an old guitar — his grandfather’s instrument — steps onstage. He’s a poet, a troubadour and this is his story. It’s coming of age tale, but also so much more than that.

Not quite a musical, “Roadsigns,” now playing at the Purple Rose Theatre Co., is a deeply philosophical stage play written by the multitalented Jeff Daniels.

“Roadsigns” is storytelling set to song — bozos on the bus of life attempting to escape the dreary confines of ordinary, everyday life. They are heading out on a Greyhound for the Promised Land, wherever that may be.

Seven characters, a distributive demographic of the old and young, share life stories of loss, hopes and dreams.

Conversations begin across the aisle, snippets and quips, tentative sharing and exploring — is it safe? Soon enough, we are treated to tender moments: a laugh at a mother going bald, or a black woman who imagines herself the next Aretha Franklin. Walter is the ancient bus driver up front, wizened and wry, is a former bartender. His wife has died, the bar bought out from under him by lawyers for the rich.

And on a stand-up stage behind him is Lanny, a troubadour played by David Bendena. He plays gentle backup, and knits stories together with chords and commentary.

And the bus goes on.

Richard McWilliams is Robert, a pastor with a bottle of whiskey for a best friend. He’s had a dream of leaving his flock behind — leaving his future up to wherever the bus will take him. He stands, dances and delivers a mighty rambling sermon, prompting a bluesy solo of “Amazing Grace,” sung soulfully by the wannabe Aretha, Tanesha, played by K. Edmonds.

Suddenly, everyone stands up, the chairs are pushed aside, and our bus disappears for a moment. The beautiful losers transform themselves into a dancing, singing gospel choir. Woo, ain’t it pretty?

Folks settle in back in their bus seats. Meanwhile, in the back of the bus, our soldier, P.F.C. Harmon — fresh out of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri — portrayed by Rusty Mewha, declares he’s off to a “secret location.” It’s what he calls the staging point for World War III. This works like a charm, as Darlene — the blonde with the balding mom — succumbs to the notion that she, and all aboard the bus, might soon die. Thus, they have sex on the back seat of the bus, next to sleeping twin babies. Caitlin Cavannaugh is Darlene. Yes, she is Darlene — the personification of every high school cheerleader everywhere.

Ruth Crawford is Esther, a wrinkled widow, is sandwiched in between Walter and Robert. She flings a flurry of bitter zingers across the aisle to Francine — a single mom, the one with the twins in the back she is inclined to abandon. Both men nudge Esther to admit her suppressed pain: her loss, her sense that she has nowhere left to go. She breaks down and is welcomed into the troubled tribe. Each of these characters is given ample time to tell their twisty tales, and each of the actors does an exquisite job of telling their stories.

“Roadsigns” might not have worked if not for the artful staging of Purple Rose Theatre Co. artistic director Guy Sanville. The production is also aided by Sarah Pearline’s set design — a curvy highway reminiscent of Dorothy’s yellow brick road.

The play ends with a clever transition to outside a Nashville bar, where our stalwart narrator balladeer busks his way toward the temptation of fame and fortune, wrapping all the bus stories into a single song, and then abruptly declines a record deal that would faux-countrify his music.

Are we there yet? Have we reached the Promised Land? Oh yeah.

"Roadsigns" continues at the Purple Rose Theatre Co. in Chelsea through to Saturday, March 14. 


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us