nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
April 27, 2010
Bobrauschenbergamerica is a dizzying, exciting collage of America. In the talkback that followed the performance I attended, it was said that the production was meant to feel as if 20th century pop artist Bob Rauschenberg was the dramaturg. It is about a way of viewing the world—an atmosphere, a feeling—more than it is about characters or plot. James Schuette's scenic design sets the tone for this world, with nearly all of the action taking place on a giant American flag folded on a 90-degree angle which is painted on the set.
Charles L. Mee's script (like much of Rauschenberg's art) is a combination of pre-existing materials. Mee weaves quotes from artists, scientists, etc., with overheard conversations and original writings. We are in Texas, but a euphoric one. The play is an inherently American one. Despite the fact that many of the characters appear not to have any connection to one another, there is nonetheless a lovely sense of community. It left me with the notion that perhaps one of the great joys of being an American is our ability to connect and find joy in a great diversity of people and activities.
Montage is a device unique to film, yet director Anne Bogart, the versatile ten-person cast, and sound designer Darron L. West have most beautifully re-invented it for the stage. It is as if the entire production is one giant transition, a 90-minute journey through Americana. Every moment—no matter how surreal it becomes—stems from an inherently normal, even mundane, impetus: laundry, a yard sale, eating cake, mixing a drink. The ensemble then finds ingenious, clever, or just plain silly ways to turn these everyday parts of life into art, which is akin to Rauschenberg's work. From creating a human martini to watching a giant chicken cross the stage to the sounds of the moon landing, every image in the play holds meaning and calls back not only to Rauschenberg, but to the art and culture of America.
This is a revival of a piece originally created ten years ago and, for both better and worse, it feels that way. It is impeccably "choreographed" and executed, every moment is full and we always know where to direct our attention. At the same time the characters (and costumes) seem too young for the cast. And the device, present in other SITI pieces, of "and now an incongruous moment of joyous group dance to a catchy song" seems overused in this.
This is the fifth SITI Company show I have seen and I realize now that they have scientifically cracked humor—found the precise recipe for it. Any member of the ensemble will do a gesture or make a sound and it is not funny, until suddenly they make it so—through duration, surprise, or button.
If you have not seen a SITI Company production, you should. No one does theatre like they do, and every artist should aspire to their thoughtfulness and precision.