Having made their debut just little over a year ago with a psychologically complex two-hander that would have tested the mettle of any young theatre troupe, Thunder and Lightning Ensemble proved that even if they had bitten off slightly more than they could chew, they certainly didn’t lack for ambition when it came to their selection of material nor dedication to doing it justice. Indeed, for their follow-up piece, artistic director D.B. Schroeder has chosen American playwright Anthony Clarvoe’s little-known “Ambition Facing West,” a beautiful tapestry of a play interweaving three narrative strands across three generations of characters and over three continents to paint an epic portrait of the American immigrant experience, sprawling in its geographical scale yet intimate in its emotional resonance. Schroeder and his cast of seven have risen to the challenge and admirably not allowed themselves to be intimidated by the prospect of the text, a dense and naturalistic affair with pockets of humor and poetic writing containing a Chekhovian sense of bittersweet longing. And even if on opening weekend the production could have benefited from tighter scene transitions, as well as stronger dramatic echoes between characters across time periods, the psychological and emotional groundwork had been laid with performances that only look to deepen during the run. From 1940s Wyoming to 1980s Japan, from a young Croatian emigrant driven by insatiable wanderlust in 1910 to a precocious young woman feeling the first pangs of love circa World War II, the play’s cinematic crosscutting construction is also challenging work for its audience. Thankfully, the author skillfully connects the psychological dots in the second act and brings this peripatetic play to a richly rewarding close. It’s a wonderful play on an epic scale and given their limited resources, Thunder and Lightning Ensemble’s production does it justice. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, (773)332-9939. Thu-Sat 7:30pm. $15. Through June 24.