2.5 Minute Ride
Auschwitz has a gift shop now. Actually, that's no joke. Or if it is a joke—one that approaches nearly cosmic levels of poor taste—it's still completely true. And if, just now, you're not exactly sure how to feel about that bit of information, or what to make of it, monologist Lisa Kron is probably thinking that's a useful place to start.
In the introduction to the published version of her autobiographical performance piece, 2.5 Minute Ride, Kron writes, "It seems to me that in this age of Holocaust museums and memorials we have developed a way of responding to this most horrible of tragedies that, in fact, protects us from ever approaching its horror."
Kron went to Auschwitz with her father, who survived World War II only because his family spirited him out of Germany to the United States when he was 15. But one of the things that makes Ride anything but a conventional narrative about the Holocaust is the way the playwright, performer and humorist weaves the stories of her father's German childhood and his return to that country in the 1990s with the tales of several other family journeys: Annual trips their family still takes to a Midwest theme park, to indulge an inexplicable passion for amusement park food and her father's love of roller coasters; a journey to Brooklyn to witness her brother marry his Internet bride.
Yes, such a juggling of themes could easily descend into mawkishness or complete disrespect. That something else came out of a work that won an Obie, an L.A. Dramalogue Award and a New York Press Association award in 1999 speaks to an uncanny sense that Kron has for innate—and undeniably deep—connections between the disparate events she relates. It also speaks to an abiding commitment the playwright has to truth in autobiography. On this ride, no one gets a free pass. The stakes are too high for that.
Kron brings 2.5 Minute Ride to Kenan Theater this week, the latest offering in Playmakers Rep's PRC2 series. She spoke with us by phone last Friday, from her home in New York.
INDEPENDENT: 2.5 Minute Ride goes back and forth; there's a lot of humor and horror in it. But there are very different kinds of horror. You touch on the urban sort of horrors we all have toward our families' everyday stories—
KRON: Eating hamburgers at 10 o'clock in the morning—
Yes, or an aunt who goes on and on to a waiter about which foods make her choke, and so on. We're all born into families of monsters; the final horror is that we become a lot like them. So there's these familiar, familial horrors—the horror of recognition, perhaps—and they sort of make a bridge to other, deeper horrors here.
I don't necessarily see them as so different. We're always living on two levels simultaneously. There's kind of an aspirational life we live; then there's what we do in our daily lives. I think we do think big thoughts and small ones simultaneously, all the time; that's just the way people are. There we were in Auschwitz and at one point I was thinking of a snack. In the original events there, people were thinking all kinds of huge and tiny thoughts, having huge and tiny desires and complaints in ways that were magnificent and petty also.
The big picture is only known in retrospect. We never live to an amber light—that's imbued after the fact. At the start of certain stories [in 2.5 Minute Ride], the audience doesn't know whether we're in an amusement park or a concentration camp. I want people to have to decide for themselves whether they're going to laugh or not—not to have that codified response of "now we're going to be solemn, because we're in a concentration camp."
I want them to have an authentic response: Figure it out as it's happening—which is what all of us have to do all the time. I'm interested in the way we memorialize the Holocaust. We've conflated the memorialization of the Holocaust with the events of the Holocaust, and they're actually very different.
It's easy to read your account of the Auschwitz gift shop as almost a circuit breaker. You're in this place, having these experiences; then this absurd thing crosses your field, and it breaks the tension, provides a moment of—maybe relief isn't the appropriate word—
But that didn't feel to me an exception to what the rest of the experience was. Part of my point, and the reason I wrote it the way I did, is that it was the experience of being there. It's not an exception to what the experience was. That, to me, is the true telling of the story.
Truth, uncompromising, is clearly very important to you throughout the work.
It's an epigraph I use with the piece: "The first time you tell a story, it's fact. The second time, it's fiction."
In the work, my unconscious motivation is, if I tell this story about my father's history, I can reclaim this lost world for him; I can put back, I can reassemble and make whole again what was broken in his life. So I start doing that, and halfway through it starts to psychically unravel. I realize I can't do it; it's not working. The whole attempt I began with completely shatters—until at the end I realize, again subconsciously, that this is not even his grief. It's my grief. He's in a whole different place.