AISLE SAY Twin Cities

One Nation Under Stress

Directed by Caleb McEwen
Starring Dan Hetzel, Katy Mcewen, Nick Knudson,
Tim Uren, and Shanan Wexler
Brave New Workshop
2605 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis / (612) 343-3390

Reviewed by Ellen Dworsky and Roxanne Sadovsky

We should have known better than to expect this review would be a no-brainer. The show was funny, we thought; what else is there to say? Laugh out loud funny. Smart, fierce, and fun. Go see it. End of story. Two-Jew-Review proudly awards Brave New Workshop's latest run -- "Bushwhacked II: One Nation Under Stress" -- four matzo balls.

Who knew when we sat down to write the thing we'd end up arguing about the relevance of satire, which evolved into that ever popular debate: What can and can't you joke about these days? Is everything we think and do the result of unexpressed biological states, euphemistically referred to as feelings? The long evening finally culminated in agreeing to disagree. What's more, the conversation, over all, wasn't funny.

In its chaotic thread of satirical trail mix, Bushwhacked picks on mainstream America --particularly its collective and packaged grieving of September 11, which is sensitively referred to as the audience's chosen date, April 1. The show opens with a hilarious depiction of us neurotic terro-burbanites frantically flailing our patriotism as we speed down our community highways with dime store flags riding the chrome of our SUV's. This, brought to you by the generic brand local news anchor (babbling news-speak), sets the absurdist tone for the two-hour song, sketch, and dance routine. Neatly entwined with flashbacks, acrobatics, and mock-musicals, the result is a finely choreographed collection of politically incorrect bedtime stories.

Beneath its witty depiction of the American bigwigs and the suburbs that love them, Bushwhacked points a prosthetic finger at the serious concerns that are robbing us of our humanity. While BNW defines us Americans as silly little sheep consumerists who sue for drama and drama for play, the power lay in the message that we Americans "need nothing, but want everything," as uttered by the cast's heartthrob, Dan Hetzel. In that wanting, we'll do anything to belong, even if its something as silly and mindless as dancing the hottest Arabian dance mix, "Oppressed People against Oppressing People who Oppress," or something. While there's nothing wrong with The Hustle, the message, a la Orwell, examines the danger in the more subtle ways in which we blindly embrace the mediocre, be it through politics, media, religion, patriotism, or community involvement.

Given all that, why the heck are we laughing? For one, the cast is fabulous. Even if you know all there is to know about improv (the alchemy through which all their shows are born), you'll be amazed at this gaggle of chemistry that smokes direct from the funny bone. There are few things as beautiful as watching grown folk play, and play they do. While I could wax talientius at length on this quintet of creative explosion, it would do more justice to emphasize the real-time spontaneity that proves the entire point of the show: we live best when we live out loud. Beneath all the scripted daily encounters and rehearsed acceptance speeches, we are driven to survival by following the natural instincts of our needs, not the contrived wants of our mega-mall's trend du jour. Of course, add slapstick and it's all very fall down funny.

In the midst of the laughter, however, at that moment when we look at our neighbor as if to ask, "how the heck did s/he do that?" we have been viscerally moved by something as simple as the truth of our idiocy. While it's fair to say that the entire cast operates at the speed of Ritalin, with facial and limbic tumbles as malleable as Play-Doh, one can't help but wonder where Nick Knudson, the little red-head package of Partridge nostalgia stores all that fire; watching him, either solo or in tandem, is to watch him repeatedly erupt from himself, in his own self-contained snake-out-of-the-can routine. The point is while we marvel at the hilarity of the satire, the wit, the calling us on our collective shit, the true art of Bushwhacked is the balls out declaration of spontaneous independence from the mighty kingdom of them. In fact --

Elle: Rox? Why are you writing like this? You're vacillating between scholarly and...Roxisms --

Rox: Roxisms?

Elle: You know, stuff like "facial and limbic tumbles as malleable as Play-Do. And what in God's name does "waxing talentius mean?"

Rox: Talent, Elle. It's a Roxism.

Elle: Look, you've got to commit to one form. Why don't you just tell them what made us laugh, think, argue, drink and go home?

Rox: Elle, what about the epiphanies? What about the feelings verses thinking issue? What about the danger of satire?

Elle: Can't we just laugh and feel good without bringing it back to suppressed biological urges for survival-or whatever the hell you're saying life is all about?

Rox: But it's important, Elle. It's about resisting Big Brother --

Elle: No more Orwell!

Rox: Anyway, you're a fine one to talk about just laughing, Miss-always-in-her-intellect. YOU'RE the one who wondered if they didn't go too far with the jokes.

Elle: Yeah, yeah. You're right. I'm just not sure the Cherokee Trail of Tears is appropriate to joke about.

Rox: What? You'd rather we read about it in textbooks that say we were mean white men with wigs, but we were big and dumb so we didn't know any better? Don't you remember reading history in grade school? The point of satire is to acknowledge our boo-boos, laugh, cathart, and not do it again. There are plenty of modern Trails of Tears we could look at --

Elle: Still. The line about slaves having the nerve to die on the ship on the way to America...

Rox: So, we think it, say it and then go on with our lives. That's what the show was saying. We acknowledge how hypocritical we are and how we'll join a conga line at the right time and place in order to fit in. That's how it is. But IS that how it is? Does it have to be that way? Why do we agree to do stupid stuff?

Elle: Jesus, Rox. It was a SHOW. That's all.

Rox: It was making the statement that we our privileged idiots who are spoiled by buffets, which brings up the next point: If the message is that we should live in awareness, challenge the bigwigs, do random acts of kindness and all that, how come we still don't invite Uncle Jack to dinner? Because he is "weird"? Because he has that strange habit? Sure, we can play nicey nice with strangers, but when it comes to Uncle Jack --

Elle: Rox, what are you talking about? Who the hell is Uncle Jack?

Rox: It's a metaphor, Elle.

Elle: For what?

Rox: I don't know.

The Real Issues and Concerns

Elle: But if I can't just laugh, then I'm coming down on the side of questioning whether or not it's OK to joke about giving the Cherokee Small Pox infested blankets.

Rox: I told you, the point of satire is to use humor to say how stupid racism and all that is. The danger happens when people take it too seriously and then justify their evil doings. The satire becomes a satire. You know?

Elle: No. Yes. I don't know. I'm undecided.

Rox: That's not like you Elle.

What It Made Us Wonder

Rox: This really is a great country, Elle. Like they said, only in America can we have so many choices of bottled water.

Elle: They didn't say that. I just felt --

Rox: You see, Elle. It all comes down to feelings. Right now I am feeling very grateful for your friendship.

Elle: Rox? Are you okay? Rox?

Rox: Ha. Gotcha. How often do you hear that face to face anymore?

Elle: And I'm grateful for your friendship.

Rox: I told you it was all about feelings. But seriously, it really did emphasize how often we use material things to connect to others, whereas we should be using things like...face-mail --

Elle: Face-mail? Never mind. Another Roxism.

Rox: We rely on consumer everything to meet anyone, or get anywhere. It's like the show is asking would you rather be avuncular Uncle Stan or Jenny Anydots who's the belle of the ball?

Elle: I'd rather be just me.

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