In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Carrie Hitchcock, T. Stacy Hicks and Sara Zientek are all involved in a wild search for a burial in "Come Back." (PHOTO: Ross Zentner)

In Tandem's "Come Back" is a journey with muddled tracks

Everything that happens – everything – is legitimate grist for the mill of comedy with almost no prohibition, nothing off limits.

But while nothing is banned, perhaps the most sensitive subject for comedy is the topic of grief. It's legitimate to ask the question of whether a personal grief is funny, where we are asked to believe the truth of the characters in the story.

That's the dilemma in "Come Back," the latest production from local playwright Neil Haven that's getting its world premiere at In Tandem Theatre.

The story concerns Sky (brilliantly played by Sara Zientek) whose best friend Erin (Tiffany Vance) has just died fulfilling a previous medical prediction that the blood disease she has will allow her a limited number of days or weeks or months.

Erin was an ornithologist whose final days were devoted to her birds. This was the way Sky described Erin's life and their relationship: "Before the accident, Erin's whole life had been travel and adventure, hurtling down mountains and jumping out of planes, and now she needed daily personal care. She finally needed me as much as I needed her."

As part of the eccentric life she left behind, Erin has tasked Sky with finding a most unusual way to spread her ashes, carried in an urn that Sky clutches like new-born baby. Erin has provided funds and a map with directions for Sky to follow. Sky would earn a significant estate if she completes the task.

Midway through her adventures, Sky is joined (without invitation) by Val, Erin's mother (played with brittle control by Carrie Hitchcock). Val wants the remains put somewhere in the family plot, far from this quixotic journey Sky is taking. A good part of the play is devoted to the tentative steps Val and Sky take toward each other.

The search for the proper resting place is the place where we are supposed to laugh. Ridiculous follows absurd follows even more ridiculous, but the problem is that this part of the play seems like a series of sketches you might see at an improv show in the Third Ward. Nothing really seems to hang together, and it's as if each encounter should have a sign that says "Weird Stop No. __."

But just when I started to yawn about this tedious and unfunny parade of oddities, the script comes alive and grabs our attention

Sky and Val arrive at the edge of darkness together, and the temperature rises until the explosion happens over Erin's final moments on earth in an exchange between Sky and Val.

This was two powerful actors, face to face, passionate about the most elemental thing in life: the death of a loved one. Zientek's tiny body quivers in anguish as she tries to make Val see the truth of life with her daughter. And Hitchcock leans ever forward, growing closer to truths she really doesn't want to see.

Jane Flieller directs this show with the kind of gentle pacing that lets us come along for the ride, instead of pushing us down the tracks.

"Come Back" runs through March 22 and information on tickets and showtimes is available here.

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