nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
November 28, 2009
American Treasure—a heady mixture of historical and theatrical elements, styles, and messages—alienated and confused me, but didn't really entertain or edify me.
The separate elements comprising playwright/director Julia Jarcho's play are all great. I love film noir, the clipped, smart dialogue, the tough detective in a fedora, the dame with a deadly secret. Also, the Brechtian style of emotional distancing can be an effective theatrical tool, keeping the audience at arm's length, ostensibly to keep us from being swept away by our feelings and help us to retain our logic and level head. History and historical fiction can also be quite engrossing. But while all of these elements are creatively combined and inserted into the text and production of American Treasure, somehow the means don't justify the ends, the devices seem tacked on, and the distancing techniques ultimately take the guts out of the production, leaving the play as hollow as the skins that the mystery of American Treasure revolves around.
Honestly, I can't tell you what happens; the play was as difficult to track as the cold trail that the bombshell "Poca" is following.
But to give you a taste, two actors, the gangly Aaron Landsman and the petite Jenny Seastone Stern, play multiple characters, mainly a history detective, and a down-on-her-luck dealer of antique Americana. The scenes endlessly and seemingly pointlessly loop around. There are strange flashbacks to a disgusting lunch deal which leads me to ask, "what price a burger"? Historical scenes with a heavy layer of kitsch are played in a diorama that may or may not be located at the Museum of Natural History. And the lineage of Pocahontas also is a strong factor of the plot.
Native American themes, language, and mythology are all mocked, seemingly good naturedly. Scalpings, Native American reparations vs. representation, and haunted Indian bones all are tossed into the mix. To what end? I can't say.
The characters distractingly chug a can of Pepsi from beginning to end of the performance, I was certain this would be revealed as a plot point, but apparently they are just thirsty.
The diorama/office set by Jason Simms makes good use of the small theatre, Ben Kato's lighting is dramatic, the sound by Asa Wember, too. Colleen Werthmann has designed a gorgeous Native American dress that features prominently in the play.
A stronger connection to the material from the actors wouldn't be such a bad thing, especially with a story as disjointed as this one. The surreal and dispassionate play ends up being exclusionary to the audience of this treasure hunt—we are ultimately left out of this trip.
I think a better title might be: "American Treasure or John Smith on Acid and Pocahontas on Peyote."