STAGGERING TOWARD AMERICA
nytheatre.com review by Christopher Moore
Staggering Toward America is the fascinating
story of Rik Reppe’s journey from California to New York in the wake of
September 11, 2001. The stated quest of his trip is to discover for
himself the meaning of America. It is a staggering question, but Reppe’s
performance does not stagger at all.
August 15, 2003
Written with intelligence, humor, and great affection for his subject, Reppe’s story unfolds swiftly and with increasing urgency. Omitting autobiography, he presents a collection of diverse and colorful American characters responding to the tragic events of September 11. The portraits emerge almost like Norman Rockwell images painted by Andy Warhol. Reppe richly employs the symbols of America, whether it be the flag, the lemonade stand, or the "Star Spangled Banner" in a way the I’ve never experienced before. Both respectful and cynical, he arrives at a new form of patriotism that is richly authentic and well-observed. It is a unique picture of America. A self-admitted cynic, he avoids exploiting the emotions of September 11, yet ultimately communicates a message of optimism and courage. He finds an answer to his question, but that is incidental to the journey itself.
At turns charming, insightful, and always amiable, Reppe seamlessly weaves together a cross-country journey over a swift 90 minutes, building toward a surprising and unexpected conclusion. However, what gives weight to the performance is not simply the September 11 connection, but rather the details and personal investment with which Reppe tells his story. He is a dynamic storyteller. Director Jack Rowe ensures that the significant shifts in the story are clear without being too obvious, and the pace of the production is always spot on.
As a performer, Reppe is comfortable with his audience and material. Indeed, it is his lack of "performance" that lends even more power to the production. While I wish that there might have been more autobiographical material included (for example, what did his wife say as the journey went on?), this observation is meant only to encourage a talented writer and storyteller, who deals successfully with one challenging question, and appears more than able to handle many others.