Off-Broadway Review: “In Pursuit of Peace” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y

The path to peace (if not successful), the pursuit of peace and serenity, is littered with an abundance of hurdles and pitfalls, some only causing minor contusions, others resulting in disaster. Dad (Terrence Montgomery) an alcoholic farmer somewhere in the Midwest has apparently been on a life-long quest for a surcease of discord and disharmony. His marriage to Mom (Susan Campanaro) and, eight years later, assuming his role as a father to Young Junior (Lachlan O’Day) has apparently done nothing to help Dad find peace. In fact, the only peace he experiences is drinking excessively while “rocking” in his favorite chair and listening to the soothing sounds of his mother’s windchimes – the only thing he wanted from her home after her death.

“In Pursuit of Peace,” currently running at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, provides a brief window into Dad’s decline into despair and isolation and his inability to show love to his wife and child. Of course, Mom having an affair and Junior not always being the kind of boy Dad had hoped for both have contributed to Dad’s drunkenness and dearth of spirit.

Shane Howard’s play begins with an extended flashback that provides most of the exposition outlined earlier. It is the day – after Mom has ditched Dad for conservative Christian Jim (Neslon Avidon) – that she is on her way to pick up Young Junior and whisk him off to a new home where both will be well cared for by Jim. This is Young Junior’s last day with Dad who gives the boy the scrapbook his grandmother started and Dad has recently added to. Flash forward: Years later, Junior (Chris Bellant) returns to see his Dad, breaks into the house through an open screened window, drops off the scrapbook, and steals a set of golf clubs. They have a second opportunity to say good-bye.

The balance of the play centers on Junior and Dad trying to reconnect (through the scrapbook) despite Junior’s mother lode of anger and Dad’s unwavering desire for solitude and peace. Dad at some point was attending twelve-step meetings; Junior and Mom – both alcoholics – have attended the same type of meetings. This is a troubled and dysfunctional family. One wonders briefly whether Junior might not even be Dad’s son (remembering Mom’s trips across town to find love). It is not easy to understand what the playwright was trying to achieve with “In Pursuit of Peace.” Is the play an exploration of the reunion of a father and his estranged son? Is it something more?

Junior admonishes Dad for not attending Mom’s funeral but Mom reappears as a ghost adding more secrets to the already abundant bonanza of individual and family mysteries. The difficulty with the play is that the audience never is told what the secrets are. Why aren’t these secrets revealed, especially since these secrets motivate the actions of the characters? The audience should not have to work so hard to fill in these gaps in plot. Why is the character of Jim necessary? Why does he have to be a conservative Christian? Why does Junior start to drink again? The audience is writing the script.

Dad’s discomfit is obviously real and clearly for the playwright the discomfit of Everyman. The audience needs to know more about Mr. Howard’s characters, their conflicts, and how these conflicts drive the plot forward. Director Christopher Scott might need to assist his cast to find more passion in their characters as this project continues to move forward to its next stage.