American Dreams

Jens Rasmussen-Ali Andre Ali-and-Leila-Buck

By Marcina Zaccaria

Embracing a game show format, the Working Theater has chosen a live, interactive design to bring American Dreams to a home audience.  

Lively and swiftly paced, three actors take us through the rigors of gaining American citizenship.  Director Tamilla Woodard has placed the actors in sets with pre-designed floor, backdrop, and fancy lighting that brightens the faces of the contestants.  Throughout the performance, they compete with each other to pass tests about American government.  

Is government-controlled TV the way of the future?  Is Big Brother always watching?  There’s something systematic about the format and the look of this live, interactive event.  If Big Brother is always watching, what does he want from us?  Statistics?  Emotion patterning?  It’s not clear.  Devised with Jens Rasmussen, Osh Ghanimah, Imran Sheikh and company, the cast features Ali Andre Ali, Leila Buck, India Nicole Burton, Jens Rasmussen, Imran Sheikh and Andrew Valdez.  The light, frivolous energy of the performance I saw made it feel like “Dancing with the Stars.” However, the dance was a show of skills, coordinated with bright reds and blues with the audience visible on the screen. 

Jens Rasmussen-Ali Andre Ali-Imran Sheikh-Andrew Valdez and Leila Buck

In the vision of a government TV show, ethnicity matters.  Gender matters.  And, of course, where you are from is everything.  Yet, there’s something just bursting from the screen, in the cheery presentation.  With Video by Katherine Freer and Virtual Performance Design by ViDCo, there are so many great efforts to appeal with word, gesture, and image.  American Dreams, written by Leila Buck, also asks us to look at what immigrants have endured to get to where they are.  For those who haven’t thought enough about risk and threat, “temperature checks” are called for often, and the audience is encouraged to give a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” about the statements of the contestants.  In requesting how we feel, we figure through our empathy for their journey and find out what made these immigrants tick in their home country. 

Jens Rasmussen and Leila Buck

Like many of the companies choosing Zoom as a tool for bringing performance to one’s living room, the Working Theater was considerably successful in designing an onboarding platform that includes information about the citizenship of yourself and of one’s parents.  After months of not attending games at the baseball stadium, I appreciated the Working Theater’s efforts to ask the audience to sing the National Anthem, answer polls, and eventually vote on who would win the coveted spot of American citizen.  With elements similar to the original performance at The Cleveland Public Theatre in 2018, it’s a fine design for a difficult time, yet it was so reliable and intentional that I missed some of the drama and mystery that only live performance on a theater stage can provide.      

The Working Theater will be continuing their Season with American Dreams running for seven weeks.  The final performance is scheduled for November 15, 2020.  Tickets are available at theworkingtheater.org.

Photos: Cherie B. Tay

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