Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Mission Drift is a triumph: it strides across four hundred years of American history like a Colossus pushing back frontiers of time and place to deconstruct the American dream. Elvis and economics may seem unlikely bedfellows but in TEAM’s capable hands intelligent connections are made to shine a light on American capitalism. Catch it if you can.
With Mission Drift, TEAM has come of age. Previous shows, Architecting and Particularly in the Heartland, showed undoubted potential and probed and challenged, but lacked a certain tautness. This show has all that and more. At two and a quarter hours, it’s sprawling and messy but not a minute too long – and what a tale it tells and what a punch it packs.
This is the story of America, of the American dream, of pioneers and frontiers pushed further and further back. It’s a mythic tale of creation and destruction, of the terrible twins Love and Wrestling that hold the fragile American dream in their hands. TEAM take four hundred years of American history fracture and dislocate any unity of time and place and reconstruct it in something which is altogether awesome. This is intelligent, urgent theatre that speaks with the head and feels with the heart.
The New York based Theatre of the Emerging American Movement is dedicated to dissecting and celebrating the experience of living in America today. To answer the question, “What is American style capitalism and how has it come about?” TEAM focusses on American western expansion- from pre-Revolution New Amsterdam to modern day Las Vegas. And they take this task seriously: in devising this show, TEAM spoke to Wall Street bankers, to economists, watched Westerns, read Westerns, and lived for a month in a foreclosed house in Las Vegas.
The show opens with Joan, a native of Las Vegas and waitress there, who loves Las Vegas and her place in it, meeting Chris, a Native American whom Sin City has gobbled up and spat out in its move to expand ever outwards. Then as the sub-prime mortgage crisis bites, Joan loses her job, and as she watches the action move across time and space to explore the story that is America, even her buy-in to the city of her birth.
We meet Catalina (Libby King) and Joris (Brian Hastert) Rapalje, based on a real-life Dutch couple who set sail from old Amsterdam to found the New Amsterdam. Their sprawling narrative as they move across America and across the centuries, ever pushing back the frontiers, shedding skin and recreating themselves in the pursuit of more, more, more, moves centre stage. If it doesn’t work out, move on and make a wreck somewhere else. Who is to challenge their right to boundless growth? We see nature plundered, rivers washed away and deserts tamed in the pursuit of Mammon until they reach Vegas, the pinnacle of American capitalism, the shining city in the desert. The cast, dazzled by the light, raise their glasses in celebration of the new atomic age as Elvis sings “We’re caught in a trap, there’s no going back”
Catalina and Joris recreated as Cat and Chic, owners of Out of the Woods and entrepreneurs of the Ark, are caught in a trap as recession hits and capital withdraws. They, and their counterparts, have roamed across America for centuries plundering and looting the land, and now their dream of the Ark, a theme park reconstruction of the America they have destroyed, is itself a victim of American capitalism eating itself.
Music sits at centre stage and plays a leading role. Generations of newcomers have shaped American music, bringing their music with them and refashioning it to reflect their experience of America. TEAM use this to powerful effect interspersing gospel, jazz, blues and even the King himself. The words on the Statue of Liberty “Bring me your poor, your tired” are heart wrenching when used of a faltering Las Vegas. Miss Atomic (Heather Christian) provides commentary as a snarling, purring lounge lizard that alternately prowls the stage or belts it out from behind a white grand piano.
This is a strong ensemble performance, great music and above all, intensity of vision and ideas. This is thought-provoking, passionate theatre that won’t disappoint – go see.