"Chekhov. A Laugh a minute. Like Tolstoy with a rubber chicken. How could he … know so much about madness without being. You know. Mad. Sometimes, I'll sit down and, let's say, do a crossword puzzle. You know, think I'll do a crossword, perfectly normal. Then I'll get to a word I don’t know, I try to think of it, and it’s like all the barricades in my head come down, everything I've seen and done and said and thought, it all floods into my brain, all at once, I can't stop it and I can't grab hold of anything, the dam bursts, I don't know where I am or what I was doing or who I'm supposed to be. It makes me feel like. It makes me feel like. Like I've lost myself, like there's no time left, it's all over, my life is over. Then it goes away. The day ends, another day begins, the sun comes up, I'm sure I'm going to live forever. And I can't tell you how depressing that thought is."
The three women of "A Slow Ride," a new play by Joseph Reed Hayes, are taking a family road trip like no other. Each month, sassy senior Jezebel returns to the home she once shared with her husband, accompanied by her daughter Sue and granddaughter Rita. They don't go in the house — some other family lives there now. And they don't drive. The trio makes their way to Jez's old neighborhood on a public bus. It's a long ride, incorporating a stop at a terminal to switch drivers. A long, slow ride.
The briskness of Hayes' comedy belies the title — it's certainly not slow going for an audience. And there's both poignancy and joy in the way he has cleverly captured the essence of a family's dynamics in this one ritual they share. Hayes has been working on a project titled "13 in 13" in which he's staging a baker's dozen of arts events during the calendar year. The events range from movie screenings to jazz concerts to original theater. He's entering the theater phase of the project now. Much of the comedy of "A Slow Ride" comes from the personality clashes between Jez, a vibrant ex-hippie with memory issues; Sue, a high-strung worrier; and Rita, a sulky goth. Are they based on real women Hayes has known? "Absolutely not … and every woman I've ever known and their relationships," says the Orlando playwright with a hearty laugh.
Hayes has opted for a nontraditional staging. "A Slow Ride" will be presented at the Downtown Credo coffeeshop. The actors will perform at one end of the building, spilling out among the audience. In a sense, the audience will be "on the bus" with the cast. Hayes is no stranger to nontraditional staging: He has previously presented theatrical works in his own living room and broadcast the show live on the Internet. He'll do the same for "A Slow Ride." The performance on Sunday, July 21, will be streamed live at housetheaterproject.com.
Two other plays are yet to come in the "13 in 13" series. September will see a revival of his show "Solos," which played the 2004 Orlando Fringe Festival. "Solos" is about a couple bound together by their devotion to making music. "It is about love, deception and the hardships and joys of the jazz existence," Hayes says. "Solos" will be staged at the Gallery at Avalon Island in downtown Orlando from Sept. 20-23. For the final performance, jazz combo La Lucha will accompany the actors. For December, Hayes is working on an original lighthearted Christmas show that will have a Dickensian twist: Set in 1850s London, someone is stealing the city's Christmas puddings, Hayes previews.
But right now, Hayes is focused on launching "A Slow Ride." He hopes theatergoers — or those watching on their home computers — will find echoes of their own family relationships, male and female, in the show. "It's what I write about," he says. "It's real life."