Reviewed by Will Stackman
In some sense, the damage on Sept. 11, 2002 was not confined to New York City--and the Pentagon--but to an already fraying fabric of American society. In his earlier acclaimed show, ''Another American: Asking and Telling," playwright and actor Marc Wolfe responded to the hypocritical paradox behind the American military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy concerning homosexuality. In "The Road Home; Re-membering America," Wolfe, whose undergraduate studies included political science as well as politics, takes drama back to its roots in the polity--the people. The show is distilled from perhaps 120 hours of interviews gathered across the country as the author, a native New Yorker, drove home that October in a rental car down the West Coast from Seattle, across the Southwest into the deep South then up the East coast through Washington back to the City. By simply identifying himself Wolfe elicited a range of responses from a cross-section of Americans. In this eighty minute show he interprets their responses, without costume changes or specific props. Through him we met a child and her hippie father in Redwood California. The little girl, named Eartha, gives him five beans from their garden, inspired by her favorite story.
Among the some twenty Americans Wolfe plays, up to three in a scene, are a Native American woman whose patriotism was stirred by 9/11/02, the inhabitant of a Nevada ghost town deeply suspicious of the Federal Government--"the real terrorists"--and the secretary to a small town mayor who's always dreamed of going to New York. A garrulous German hitchhiker picked up somewhere in the desert has his own criticism of the country, which comes down to sausages for breakfast. There's also a Muslim dentist from New Orleans working for the National Health Service in Mississippi, a Black traveling salesman from Chicago plying his trade in the same area, and a Malaysian mystic asking deep questions at an ashram, probably in the southern mountains. This sniffling guru provides the religious fable about dismembered gods which informs the show's title. Near the end of Wolfe's journey, we meet a hairdresser in Washington recounting his personal problems with his boss which almost get him permanently fired, and hear the pontifications of an architectural critic--with vertigo--living in a tall apartment building near Ground Zero. In the end, Eartha's five beans are still waiting to be scattered. But the people recreated in this show have begun to sprout in the imagination of the audience.
"The Road Home; Re-membering America" was originally commisioned by the McCarter Theatre at Princeton and is being presented by the Huntington in association with the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester. The show's had a workshop performance at the Adirondack Theatre Festival and has had developmental support from the New York Theatre Workshop. This full-scale production is directed by David Schweizer, whose previous efforts have concentrated mostly on contemporary opera. The set, which makes effective use of the Wimberley's lighting and mechanics, was done by Andrew Lieberman, one of Schweizer's recent collaborators. Lighting, including various projections was designed by Peter West. Wolfe's casual costume is credited to David Zinn, who's work is also seen in town onstage during ART's current production of Rinde Eckert's "Orpheus X". It's likely that Obie winner Wolfe may be seen next season doing this show in New York, or some other major metropolitan venue.
There are two American flags onstage throughout most of the performance, with no irony intended. This is a patriotic show, in the truest sense of the word. Wolfe, a New Yorker, has a real feeling for the diversity the rest of the country shares with his home town. He seems committed to making these disperate voices heard. This show returns again and again to people speaking in their own words as a springboard for his remarkably varied performance. At one point he's talking to the younger son of a waitress about picking lines from "Romeo & Juliet" to memorize , playing both parts almost simultaneously. There's also a loudmouthed older brother in the same scene which began by a monologue from their mother cleaning up tables. This is bravura acting combined with clear and simple text, while revealing a realistic subtext. Wolfe has distilled the responses he gathered on his journey into a wry but encouraging look at the country and its response to 9/11. We are resilient. Likely the show will continue to develop and may even find a way to incorporate more Americans Wolfe met on his trip home. Or it might be shortened and combined with a second part based on the current situation and how the country got from then 'til now. One problem for an author choosing to look at current affairs is that history sweeps on. Wolfe might just find that his life's work can never be finished.