Stuck in the Rest Area
Photo by Deidre SchooThe premise: a film crew led by shrieky, idealistic director Vladima (Amber Scott) sets out on a cross-country road trip to capture freaky-ass America—to "embrace oddity," the offbeat attractions most tourists never get to, with a larger goal of interviewing people at these locales and having them talk about their dreams.
Sounds like it would make a halfway-decent documentary itself—and probably already has. But the main problem with this world premiere of Emily Brauer's Searching for Americana at the Hunger Artists Theater Co. is in its metaphoric predictability. The open road, y'see, is a lot like life: there are many ways to get to your destination, you just have to choose which is the best course to get there, but your choice may not be the best one, and your car might break down on the way, but you'll eventually get it fixed and continue on, unless you decide to turn around and choose a different route, but it's not really important where you're going, it's how you get there, unless you get buried in a rockslide on the highway, in which case you're totally fucked, blather-blather-blather.
We recall being schooled about this some 20 years ago in the parking lot of our first Dead show by a crusty gent who wanted to share a baggie full of Humboldt Gold with us, a far-more-interesting medium than this play. That's not to say Americana is lousy because it's not—it simply works better as a coming-of-age piece in which characters realize they need to start living their own lives and pursue their own dreams, instead of either living out their parents' hopes for them or coasting at a job they don't really like. Wanna run away with an Abe Lincoln-turned-Elvis impersonator? Go for it! Shack up with the guy who drives the Weinermobile? Hell, yeah! Be a game-show announcer? Why not?
You don't get this payoff till the end, though, and along the way, there are many potholes to traverse (see? We can do this metaphor thing, too). Early scenes of the film crew shooting their doc aim for humor, but the lines just aren't funny, and the action is about as time-sucking as watching a real film crew work. Brauer's ideas of Odd America are dubious (Arizona's London Bridge? Maybe when it was first rebuilt there, but it's now a garish, tourist-soaked mecca), and she completely misses an opportunity for at least one good scrota joke when she has her crew visit the world's largest ball of twine. ("Americans are obsessed with balls!" Vladima chirps. And then . . . nothing!)
Also less successful is the production's incorporation of video, mostly clips of Vladima talking directly into a camera, commenting on action that's either just occurred or is about to. Yet it seems Scott, as Vladima, could easily accomplish the same thing by stepping out of each scene and into a spotlight. That might solve annoyances like actors tramping around the squeaky stage, drowning out what she has to say.
SEARCHING FOR AMERICANA AT HUNGER ARTISTS THEATER CO., 699-A S. STATE COLLEGE BLVD., FULLERTON, (714) 680-6803. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 7 P.M.; SPECIAL PERFORMANCE MON., 8 p.m. THROUGH DEC. 19. $12-$15.
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