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Venue: DC Arts Center (DCAC)
Friday, July 20th, 10:00 p.m.
Saturday, July 21st, 10:00 p.m.
Sunday, July 22nd, 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday, July 24th, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 25th, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 27th, 10:00 p.m.
Saturday, July 28th, 10:00 p.m.
Sunday, July 29th, 5:00 p.m.
They Say: “Explore the mystery of the image and legend of America that is so incongruous with its daily reality. What is opportunity, equality or freedom? Dive into the American psyche and wrestle with the concept of ‘America’ in this multimedia spectacle.”
Sophia’s Take: Nightmerica falls into a trap that is not uncommon with experimental theater: It simply recreates the very phenomenon it means to examine. This show attempts to make sense of our polarized political environment and the patriotic propaganda that saturates our lives. In so doing, the creators of Nightmerica have themselves delivered a multimedia barrage of ideas that amounts to a superficial exploration of American identity.
Patriotic preshow music fills the lobby as you walk into the DCAC. Two cast members playing security officers scan you and your belongings before you are allowed to enter the theater. Once inside, two airline stewardesses clad in red, white and blue, stand in front of a pair of massive video screens. They gesticulate as a satirical intercom announcement informs us where to stow our critical thinking and that the “politician closest to your interests may be behind you by 20 years.” Throughout the hour, the screens are filled with one image after another: fireworks, pies, flags, Britney in an American Flag bustier, you name it. One poster depicting bombs reads: “We’re going to free the shit out of you.” These projections are layered with vignettes. Musical numbers feature alternative lyrics to patriotic songs. The scenes portray, for instance, an author on a talk show defending his thesis that people should vote according to gut instinct alone, or one man’s progression from Boy Scout to homeless veteran.
Sound designers Nate Taylor and Rob Gould, and video designer Mark Perkins deserve credit for their work. Nightmerica is meant to overwhelm the senses. The combined efforts of the designers and the ensemble make one crystal clear point: We should question the media machine that propagates the “We’re # 1!, America Fuck Yeah!” mentality. We should carefully examine the information, or lack thereof, that supports said mentality and be vigilant against manipulation.
I have complete respect for this point. In order to conceive and write skits that represent the extremes on both sides of the political spectrum, director B. Stanley and his ensemble have had to resist the temptation to tune out the media onslaught and the voices of those with whom they may instinctively disagree. It’s an important process for anyone who wants to hold themselves to a high standard of critical thinking as a citizen, and a high standard of empathy as an artist.
Yet by simply repeating this point in numerous ways, the show misses the opportunity to also be an exploration of empathy. In his program notes, Stanley writes, “Nightmerica is my decision not to delete” the e-mail forwards from one of his right wing, religious relatives. Personally, I find this tidbit of context very illuminating. Many of us relate to the potentially corrosive effects that differing political or religious views can have on our relationships with family and friends. Unfortunately, Stanley avoids introducing any of that content into the show. As a result, Nightmerica feels impersonal and underdeveloped.
His point is also one I’ve heard many times before, and I suspect my fellow audience members have, as well. This is, after all, the Capital Fringe Festival. Washington audiences, regardless of religion or voting habits, tend to be media savvy and aware of the different opinions that pepper the American political landscape. Many contribute daily to the advancement of the America with which they identify. Upon exiting the theater, Nightmerica begged only one question: To whom is this piece meant to speak?
See It If: You’re fresh off the boat and need a primer before watching Jon Stewart or listening to Rush Limbaugh.
Skip It If: This sounds a heck of a lot like what you already think about all day.