nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
January 12, 2012
TEAM stands for “Theatre of the Emerging American Moment”—and together, the members of this innovative ensemble have created some extraordinary theatrical moments. Perhaps none has more been more powerful than their current piece, Mission Drift, now playing at PS 122’s COIL Festival. If you want to see where American theatre is—and where it’s headed—go to this provocative and wondrous work.
Mission Drift deconstructs the legend of American capitalism, from the dawn of time to present day. A tall order—and yet the TEAM makes it all so entertaining, combining poetry, song, movement, drama and yes, Elvis montages in startling, thought-provoking ways. A shaman’s dance, for example, echoes across epochs to transform into Elvis’ rebellious gyrations. The piece’s very structure itself grows more and more unpredictable, with characters unexpectedly taking over narration, or bursting into frenzied motion to express pent-up emotion.
A showgirl/spirit-guide named Miss Atomic—played with grit and sass by Heather Christian-- acts as a primary narrator. She tells her epic tale to Joan, a Las Vegas waitress who’s just lost her job and is contemplating a new life with a mysterious cowboy named Chris.
Miss Atomic begins with the story of the brothers Love and Wrestling—(“I’m not being poetic—those were their names,” she says in a tone of whimsical menace)—elemental forces of creation and destruction whose constant battle created the American continent. She then introduces Joris and Catalina, a pair of adolescent immortals whose eternal quest for more propels them through the centuries. They begin as ambitious seventeenth century Dutch immigrants to New Amsterdam, riding bareback across America, plowing through land, people, and resources until, in a momentary spate of exhaustion, they stop to found the city of Las Vegas in the early 1900s. They spearhead Vegas through its boom years up to its implosion in the 21st century financial meltdown—where Joan’s story intersects with theirs. Joan sees her own restlessness mirrored in Joris and Catalina, but in witnessing the destructiveness of their insatiable want, she begins to question their ideals—and her own.
Mission Drift examines heady concepts without ever losing its heart. Thanks to strong writing and powerful performances, the TEAM never forgets to have empathy for their subjects. Even the maniacally acquisitive Joris and Catalina—played by the mercurial Brian Hastert and Libby King, respectively— are not without sympathy—as when they huddle together to play cards on the ship to America or when they gaze awestruck and terrified at atomic bomb tests in the deserts outside 1950s' Las Vegas. Joan, played with wounded toughness by Amber Gray, is a powerful reminder of the personal cost of the current economic crisis, while Ian Lassiter imbues the uprooted cowboy Chris with a potent yearning for a way of life lost forever.
The piece is emotional yet never sentimental—it takes a hard look at what one character calls “the myth of endless expansion.” True, the energy seems to flag two-thirds in—when the story’s multiple strands strain to intersect before they implode—but this does not diminish the piece’s power. Mission Drift captures the zeitgeist while daring to suggest hope for the future.