nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 12, 2006
Site-Seeing is a fantastic ensemble piece about what melts and what doesn't in this great Melting Pot of a country of ours. The characters and stories are taken from the lives and experiences of the actors and the text is derived from improvisations, interviews, American literature, and pop culture. What I liked best about the show is the rich fabric of theatricality it weaves with its threads of character, song, and text.
The piece opens with a woman singing the classic Woody Guthrie tune "This Land is Your Land." This sets the stage perfectly for all that is to follow. She pulls a few things out of her foot locker (which she occasionally climbs into) and closes the lid and establishes her little homestead. She's followed by a granola girl who, after placing all of her stuffed animals around her, founds her own little homestead. The show progresses in this way with each of the nine characters marking off their space with their possessions (or lack thereof). You have some archetypal characters such as the pious religious woman, the greedy businessman, the condescending intellectual, and the ambitious immigrant. Sometimes things get a bit tense in the community while at other times they work together and live in relative harmony. It is a very fitting satire of a slice of American pie.
The show is beautifully conceived by Susan Haedicke and Leslie Felbain. They collaborated on the writing and they serve as dramaturg and director, respectively. Between all the pop culture references and bastardized American literature are snippets of songs—not the whole song, just a sample—sung by individuals, one or two characters, or the whole cast; they compliment the show's overall ensemble style. Director Felbain creates some great stage pictures and the action is non-stop and eye-catching. The only drawback for me is the general lack of physical bits. These guys purport to have training in theatrical clowning and while I wasn't expecting them to appear with red noses and squirting flowers on their oversized lapels, I was expecting more physicality and classical commedia dell'arte and/or vaudevillian-type situations and bits. Instead the production uses mostly a straight satire format, complete with jokes that are wry but not laugh-out-loud funny. Still, I really liked the theme of how community is created and how and why we set boundaries.
The ensemble—Allison Schubert, Gwynne Flanagan, Anna Olivia Moore, Colleen Harris, Reid Morgan, Mila Borrero, Peter Stone, Stacey Jensen, and Jay Randall—is second to none. Their singing voices are beautiful, their characterizations are well-balanced combinations of the real and the satirical, and their commitment is unwavering. They work as a unit and they deserve high praise as such. Costumer Alison Ragland also deserves a nod for her on-the-money designs. Each character is made more distinct due to Ragland's work.
I recommend Site-Seeing. There is a note at the bottom of the program that states that the show was conceived as a living art installation and invites the audience to wander about the community before walking out. I highly recommend doing this. It's a little weird at first, but it gave me closure and reminded me of home.