Writer: Bill Rosenfield
Director: Joseph Winters
Television channels are awash with travelogues documenting American life. Typically, the host will take a car/train, stop at a small town, take in the views, interview a few locals (usually weirdos) and move on to the next location. So do we really need another similarly formatted American documentary, this time adapted for the theatre? Clearly playwright Bill Rosenfield believes that we do.
Simon and Garfunkel looked for America in their 1960s song, so maybe Rosenfield has, at long last, found it. His play is inspired by True Fans, a documentary film by Dan Austin, and the mode of transport used is the bicycle. Dan Austin (Marco Young), his younger brother Jared (Rosanna Suppa) and his best friend Clint (Jacob Lovick) set off to ride from Venice, California to Springfield, Massachusetts. They are Basketball fanatics, supporters of Utah Jazz, and their destination is the Basketball Hall of Fame. They cross the Rockies and the Rust Belt, meeting the disillusioned and the dreamers on their way, all three actors taking turns to play different characters in the places visited.
Modern America can be seen as a nation dominated by affluent East and West coasts, home to a liberal elite, with a vast, often ignored expanse in the middle. Nothing in this play is overtly political, but the notion that the forgotten have the potential to kick back always lies beneath the surface. The characters narrate the story, often stopping to correct themselves and take out exaggeration; the writer is reminding us that this country with a short history is founded on legends, many of which could be baseless.
The first half of the road trip is tricky. Every time that a new character appears, one of the actors is taken out, thereby hindering the development of their main role and leaving the audience little to connect with. The story has no high drama, little comedy, no mystery and no romance; it is a celebration of small lives, mundane and often boring. However, a dip in the Mississippi in the middle of the play refreshes it. The three cyclists emerge as fully rounded characters and Rosenfield’s themes begin to coalesce with clarity.
Director Joseph Winters keeps it all very simple, leaving an almost blank canvas on which to paint a picture of a vast country. Apart from three chairs, a basketball signed as a memento by those encountered by the cyclists along the way, is the only prop. The production relies on vivid writing and remarkably strong performances and, perhaps against all the odds, it succeeds.
The idea of an American travelogue appearing in a North London studio theatre seems crazy, but everything about Another America is eye opening. When the play trips over its own over ambition, wonderful acting comes along to pick it up and get it back on the road.
Runs until 30 April 2022