nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 23, 2007
Near the end of American Fiesta, Steven Tomlinson's rather boring and empty one-man play at Vineyard Theatre, a character says:
My parents knew I wanted Grandma's dishes. When she died, they got there first and sold them all. I've spent years, finding every piece I remembered. Was it worth it? I don't know, but it was my life.
If this sad individual, encountered by Tomlinson at a Fiestaware convention in Pittsburgh, doesn't know, then let me help him/her out: It wasn't worth it. A lesson of this strange new play is, apparently, that collecting things can somehow be more nourishing/nurturing than cultivating relationships with friends and family. I disagree.
I simply found no way in to American Fiesta. It tells the presumably true story of how Steven and his longtime partner Leon decided to get married in Canada, and then tried to get Steven's recalcitrant Oklahoma parents to come to the wedding. The ceremony is of course a metaphor for the more important issue of acceptance by Steven's mom and dad. And while that struggle was being waged, Steven indulged in another metaphor, becoming an obsessive collector of Fiestaware, apparently hoping that these overpriced old dishes and bowls would somehow fill the void left by loved ones who didn't seem to love quite enough.
As I said, I just didn't get it. The play feels, in many places, like a therapy session, as Tomlinson airs what I would identify as private family business in a very public forum. (It actually got to be a bit embarrassing as Steven's mother kept squirmily blaming his father for not wanting to go to the wedding when it was clear to me that she was the one uncomfortable with her son's sexuality.)
The play is conversational, as is Tomlinson's acting style. Director Mark Brokaw hasn't managed to get him to stop waving his arms around; he's kind of distracting to watch for a prolonged period.
The material about the history of Fiestaware is fairly interesting, but elsewhere the play struggles to hold focus. Tomlinson tries to graft a socially conscious component, using some anecdotes about a company called Goldrich Neurometrics where he supposedly works/worked to make points about our common human weaknesses. Meanwhile, the Fiestaware is everywhere, literally—the set consists of cabinets and closets filled with the stuff, plus a glass and chrome display unit across the back wall where pieces are placed throughout the play.
Tomlinson wants the Fiestaware to stand for something, but—call me stubborn—I never got past the fact that he had paid hundreds of dollars for 60- or 70-year old used (cheap!) dishes.