Volume 76, Number 42 | March 14 - 20, 2007

Theater

Particularly in the Heartland
Directed by Rachel Chavkin
Presented by Theatre of the Emerging American Movement
Through March 18
P.S. 122
150 First Avenue
(212-352-3101; ps122.org)

Rachel Chavkin

Jessica Almasy and Jake Margolin in the oddly patriotic “Particularly in the Heartland.”

No place like home

By Nicholas Luckenbaugh

The Rapture has arrived. In a post-apocalyptic Kansas, the three Springer children are left orphaned after a massive storm, which they interpret as the second coming of Christ. Once realizing the severity of their new situation, the children are visited by a trio of strangers: a pregnant girl claiming to be an alien, an overstressed, red-shoe-wearing businesswoman who has fallen from a plane (and is appropriately named Dorothy), and the corporeal ghost of the assassinated hero Robert F. Kennedy. In the isolation of the American Heartland, the group must face the implications of patriotism, religion and family in a chaotic world of stimulating incidents.

Theatre of the Emerging American Movement [TEAM] presents this fascinating tale at Performance Space 122, crossing barriers with its unique storytelling. Far from the chronological conventions of the narrative theater, “Particularly in the Heartland” seems an unorganized chaos at first. However as events unfurl, the chaos unwinds into a beautiful mess of happenings that whisk the audience into complete understanding. The ensuing story remains easily comprehensible despite its paranormal ghosts and aliens, presenting an outstanding production that entertains and stimulates.

Beyond plot intrigue, the actors create for the audience a solid collaborative performance that is provocative and oftentimes massively entertaining. At one point, the audience participates in a question-and-answer session with the Springer children; later they throw eggs at one of them. This intimacy, an excellent vehicle for the plot of the production, is evident as soon as the audience enters the theater and hears the performers crooning lively renditions of American anthems.

The production is laden with other Americana references. As Dorothy and her ruby slippers leave the stage in a temporary fit of frustration, Tracy Jo, the pregnant alien, muses, “People come and go so quickly here,” an allusion to the literary classic “The Wizard of Oz.” But beyond the obvious Oz callbacks, the play is also a commentary on the country as a whole, in particular the new American family. We watch as the Springers and the trio of visitors form a strange but cohesive unit, growing together as the leaves pile in fall and the snow drifts during iconic, white Christmases. In its growth, this new Kansas household becomes a vehicle by which each of its members may evolve.

On her Fourth of July birthday, Anna Springer says, “Everyone knows that the birth of America is so much more important than the birth of one nine-year-old.” But this is only partly true, because it is through the imperfections of Anna and those of her patchwork quilt of a family that the flaws of America are made apparent. Dorothy becomes the embodiment of our excessive national work ethic, her contemporary view of the world and religion clashing drastically with the Springer children’s fundamentalist beliefs in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Bobby Kennedy’s presence is a haunting reminder of our idealistic values. And then there is Tracy Jo, literally pregnant with the promise of a new future. The ability for the flawed to become something admirable gives us hope in “Heartland,” and the sense of unity that pervades it challenges us to believe in the possibility of a unified society in the face of chaotic world events.

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