Last Updated on 10th April 2022
Tim Hochstrasser reviews Another America, a new play by Bill Rosenfield now playing at the Park Theatre, London.
7 April 2022
Bill Rosenfield’s timely and cheering new play comes to the smaller of the two Park Theatres with a positive message about the America that lies beyond the partisan Beltway and divisive electoral polarisation. It takes its point of departure from Dan Austin’s documentary True Fans which traced the story of three young men (two brothers and a best buddy) who in the late 90s decided to spend 100 days cycling 4800 miles from Venice Beach, California to Springfield, Massachusetts. Their goal was the Basketball Hall of Fame in order to pay tribute to their love of the game and support for one particular team, Utah Jazz. The people they meet along the way got to sign a basketball, the talisman of their quest, to be deposited at the end of the journey.
The question immediately arises – why the need for a play when a documentary already is there? The answer lies in the deft way in which Rosenfield uses the ‘road movie’ and pilgrimage format to explore not just the hopes and fears of the three travellers but introduce a huge range of characters from ordinary American life who they meet along the way. Some are kindly and helpful while dispensing homespun wisdom, a few are sinister, and many are troubled, mixed up or beaten down by life’s troubles. In fact, as the play progresses its real subject emerges as the America that exists under the radar, which is touched by the bold acrylic brushstrokes of politics and social dislocation but never wholly defined or imprisoned by it. The ultimate message is that there is a lot of confused, well-intentioned and complex humanity still out there which can never – thank goodness – be captured or fully defined by stereotypes.
For this positive but never sentimental tone to get across requires some virtuoso work by the three actors on stage, who between them have to project 36 characters across the span of the action, with very few props and a minimalist set. There is a lot of text and a huge amount of enactment to get through. The key to the success of the production is therefore the skill of these three young players in playing off one another so smoothly while generating such a fine gallery of individual character studies. Each of the performers must travel across gender, race and age, generating a range of American accents along the way. It is hugely to their credit that they do this so convincingly and seamlessly, and with panache.
A short review cannot illustrate this variety of characterisation in detail, but I was particularly taken by Marco Young’s depiction of a sullen teenager and a conflicted, frustrated shop assistant; Jacob Lovick’s embodiment of a disillusioned older relative, isolated by poor life choices; and Rosanna Suppa’s evocation of an eccentric kindly granny also wandering the country. This is over and above their display of the bonding and fractiousness between brothers and buddies and the growth of their individual characters as they come to accept and understand what they are wandering from, and how to ‘ride ‘til they find what they are looking for.’
The programme gives limited information on the creative team, but credit goes to director Joseph Winters whose experienced hand varies the pace of the action and ensures there is always visual interest and variety of movement even in long soliloquies and points of repose. Lighting and sound schemes enhance dramatic interest while not obtruding, and the set design (uncredited) gives the actors lots of space while providing sufficient props and framing to support them.
Until a run begins it is often hard to work out just how much exposition an audience needs, and how much can be left implied. My one real criticism would be that with a running time of 2 hours (plus interval) a bit of judicious pruning might be advantageous, particularly in the longish first half where the flashback technique is perhaps used a few too many times.
However, this is a finely crafted, life-affirming, generous-spirited play with a terrific set of performances that fully deserved the rich appreciation offered up by the press-night crowd.
Another America runs at the Park Theatre until 30 April 2022