nytheatre.com review by Leslie Bramm
July 14, 2012
American River is a dive bar/lounge in Nowhere, USA. More than that it's a metaphor for dreams that have no chance of coming true. Micheline Auger's drama tells the story of Conner and Liz, an estranged couple whose love, like those dreams is nothing more than fantasy.
Liz calls Conner in the middle of a drug-induced freak-out, pleading with him to come and get her. Conner steals his boss's truck and drives a long distance to come and get the love that abandoned him long ago. Once he arrives at Liz's trailer he discovers that he is the father of a daughter, named only "the baby." Liz uses the only tools available to her—sex, drugs, and guilt—to lure the vulnerable Conner back into her clutches. Conner did a stint in rehab for crystal meth addiction, which Liz now deals, and it seems for the moment that he's trying to right his young life. Liz tries to seduce him with the idea of running away to a distant tropical island and opening a hip, touristy lounge. There they can make their fortunes, and leave their ugly past back in nowhere America.
In Scene Two we're inside the trailer. Liz and Conner have just finished having sex. They order a pizza and it's delivered by a meth'd-out, over-the-top, extremely gay pizza boy named Booger. He has no tangible dreams of his own so latches onto theirs. Really he just needs love and attention. Booger gets high with them, shares his fears and trepidations, then decides he's going to join them on their journey and has no problem being the third wheel/sidekick.
By Scene Three we're back on the patio of the trailer. Enter Johnny, a slick hustler who uses Liz for his physical and financial pleasure. He's come to drag her away to Vegas, for what promises to be another empty dream.
The play explores empty dreams, as well as the restless, and unimaginative subculture that is much of current America. All the characters lack the imagination, and most importantly gumption to do what it takes to truly pursue an ambition. Like America, they would simply rather intoxicate themselves and live in the delusion that dreams really do come true.
There is some good writing here and Auger has an ear for realistic dialogue, but I think the play needs a touch of theatrical poetry that would make these unlikeable people bold symbols of our crumbling cultural mores. Perhaps a mythological slant that would raise the text past its dogged realism and allow these characters to reach the heights of metaphor.
Also, more care could have been taken with some of the details. For example after doing a combo of heroin and meth Booger vomits outside in a fishbowl, during a thunderstorm. Later, when we return to this location, I was expecting to see the bowl swimming with rainwater and vomit, but it's as pristine as it was in Scene One. Also, the drug reactions the characters have after consuming copious amounts of meth and dope could use some work. I was confused when Scene Three began and we appear to be back on the same patio as Scene One, yet when Johnny enters, much to everyone's surprise, he does so from inside the house. We aren't told how and when he got in, and reference is made to "not walking into someone's home uninvited." Was this a symbol of reality turned inside out? If it was I didn't get it.
Kudos to Stephen Brackett for his sharp direction. The cabaret space at Theatre for a New City is tiny, and Brackett was challenged with not only moving actors around a small stage, amidst seduction and physical violence, but also maintaining a physical and emotional rhythm for the play. This was a tricky task, which Brackett pulls off effectively.
As Liz, Laura Ramadei is terrific. Liz is a calculating, trailer park skank; Ramadei is believable, and unabashed in her skankdom. As her naïve lover Conner, Robbie Collier Sublett is frail and wishy-washy, even when enraged. This suits the character nicely. John Patrick Doherty is cast well as the unctuous Johnny.
As the over-the-top pizza boy, Brendan Spieth steals the show. In his own pathetic and devious way he is the comic relief and the character I felt most empathy for. Being no stranger to this culture or these types of characters, the dynamic between the actors was disgustingly authentic. I saw the play opening night and the cast was comfortable and relaxed. Well done, gang.
Lesser America is a talented company that obviously wants to put some bite back into the American theatre. At this pace they just might have the teeth to do it.