Daniel Talbott’s Yosemite owes quite a bit to that shovel. It’s nothing fancy, this tool, but its rhythmic clanking, its perfunctory dedication to task gives this scattershot play some structure. Yosemite attempts to be about burying secrets and the oft-twisted ties of family, but from here it seems more like a contest to out-swear and out-reminisce each other whilst diggin’ a hole.
The actors do what they can with limited material. Kathryn Erbe’s Julie is vacant and drawn, slipping in and out of coherence like some kind of ethereal backwoods Miss Havisham. Her fractured relationship with her children colors everything, and it is for her own sake that the children are tasked with wielding that oh-so-ominous shovel. Chief wielder is Seth Numrich as Jake.
Mr. Numrich is the sort of actor who really makes his castmates look good. His Jake is present and giving, though his sense of betrayal often makes it difficult. Noah Galvin and Libby Woodbridge as Jer and Ruby are given less to do. Revelations have little impact, the gravity of the situation doesn’t seem to affect them, and they are fairly static.
The burden of pace lies on Erbe and Numrich, and moments that involve them often do the most to drive the action forward. Director Pedro Pascal is wise to keep it clippy and conversational. This is a talking-head play, and when this family is not actively confrontational, it devolves into a study of the many arrangements in which people can have a conversation. They are aided by Raul Abrego’s naturalistic set, which is appropriately bleak and rife with interesting places to perch.
It’s not really their fault that Yosemite seems adrift. The lot of them are doing their best to breathe life into a script that just doesn’t go anywhere. When characters reminisce about good times shared as a family, it’s clear that they are intended to “mean something,” to be tactical, but…to what end, if other than to distract from the biting cold. It’s hard to know what makes this family tick. It’s easy to see, however, that no hole will never be deep enough to hide their troubles. Julie, Jake, Jer, and Ruby dig and dig and we never feel as if anything happens. Yosemite ends as it begins, out in the woods, unarmed, and unsure.