WEPG Opens Season With Family Turmoil In Joan Ackermann’s “Off The Map”

Paula Stoff Dean, John Foughty, Bob Nickles and Julia Monsey in WEPG's production of "Off The Map." Photo: John Lamb

Paula Stoff Dean, John Foughty, Bob Nickles and Julia Monsey in WEPG’s production of “Off The Map.” Photo: John Lamb

Not an easy piece to describe, “Off The Map” is playwright Joan Ackermann’s look at a somewhat dysfunctional family with a few twists and turns along the way. In this West End Players Guild opening production, the Groden family lives, as the title would suggest, way off the map in the deserts of New Mexico. As seen through the narrator, Bo, as an adult, we see the family as they were when she was about ten or eleven. With a father suffering from depression, a somewhat beleaguered mother, a kindly uncle and a misguided stranger thrown in the mix, her upbringing is unconventional yet fascinating.

Matt Hanify and John Foughty share several beers in "Off The Map" at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Matt Hanify and John Foughty share several beers in “Off The Map” at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Kate Weber starts things off as the adult Bo introducing us to her off the map and often off the wall family. Julia Monsey does a fine job as the young, inquisitive Bo who finds everything new and exciting. Her mother, Arlene, is given a rock-solid performance by Paula Stoff Dean. A total one-eighty from her role at Stray Dog as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” you can feel the weariness in her voice as she struggles with a husband, Charley, who hasn’t spoken more than a few words in some time and does nothing but wipe away tears from this sudden bout with depression. John Foughty, also greatly subdued from his role in the comedy, “The Liar” at St. Louis Shakespeare, gives a moving performance as the stoic Charley.

Paula Stoff Dean and Bob Nickles discuss his future as John Foughty ignores them in the background and Julie Monsey does a little eavesdropping in "Off The Map." Photo: John Lamb

Paula Stoff Dean and Bob Nickles discuss his future as John Foughty ignores them in the background and Julie Monsey does a little eavesdropping in “Off The Map.” Photo: John Lamb

Another low key but strong performance from Matt Hanify as George. The fishing buddy of Bo, he eventually breaks her heart as he decides to move away, leaving her- or so she believes- totally friendless in the world. Rounding out the cast is the lanky Bob Nickles as William Gibbs. Although arriving at the Groden household as an IRS agent (the family has not paid taxes in some time as they actually have no real income, living off the land, as it were), he eventually and unexpectedly ¬†professes his love for Arlene and decides to camp on their sofa as long as he’s allowed. Whatever his eventual plans, we realize he no longer considers himself a member of the Internal Revenue Service. He eventually winds up making some very good money as an artist- all starting with a mural for Bo’s room painted on the back of a roll of wallpaper.

Director Robert Ashton has brought some semblance of reality and believability to this somewhat outlandish script. Guiding us through the quirky Groden family, he makes the whole thing a lot more entertaining than I would have expected. Joan Ackermann has produced some off beat characters and the narrative, though plausible, is not all that interesting. This cast and director have pulled it, however, from the realm of dreary to something that’s quite fulfilling.

John Foughty as Charley in the WEPG's production of "Off The Map." Photo: John Lamb

John Foughty as Charley in the WEPG’s production of “Off The Map.” Photo: John Lamb

The impressive Mark Wilson set design gives us that open, airy look of the desert Southwest and John “JT” Taylor’s lights also enhance the feel of the play. Tracey Newcomb’s costumes are perfect and the Chuck Lavazzi sound design is a strong one that moves the play along beautifully.

“Off The Map” may not totally be on the mark, but it’s a rather entertaining look at this bizarre family and their unprecedented lifestyle. Thanks to the strong cast and the moving direction, it’s worth your while. It plays at WEPG through October 5th. Give them a call at 314-667-5686 or go online at http://www.westendplayers.org for tickets or more information.

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