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Review of Another America at Park Theatre

As a showcase for some impressive emerging performance talent, Bill Rosenfield’s two-act sketch-laden play offers more than a few exciting and engaging moments. However, at over two hours, this adaptation of a self-produced documentary about three young men making a road trip by bicycle from California to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Massachusetts spends too long slogging through a series of meditations on the hopes, delusions and disappointments of the American dream before predictably – and occasionally sentimentally – the characters coming of age on the East Coast.

Another America - Credit Piers Foley.
Another America – Credit Piers Foley.

From Hoosiers to Hoop Dreams, basketball stories have long been the stuff of against-all-odds drama or revelations of slightly less than Hollywood endings as microcosm of the American experience and fantasy. For Another America, however, the stakes are never really that high: two brothers Dan and Jared Austin (Marco Young and Rosanna Suppa) and their jock (but pastoral poetry-quoting) friend Clint Ewell (Jacob Lovick) embark on the 4,000-mile road trip largely because of millennial ennui, the absence of immediate employment prospects and some vague exhortations of the Austins’ recently deceased father.

The blog-based material that underpinned the documentary shows in the largely linear and chatty nature of the narrative. Rosenfield (or is it the True Fans documentarian, the real Dan Austin?) spends a lot of time with bon mots on quirky US place-names but is never as funny as David Sedaris. He introduces some profound characters, such as off-the-grid Uncle Larry in Colorado, but doesn’t evoke the lyricism of Jack Kerouac. And as the trio pedal the highway to the Mississippi River in the first act, the playwright takes a helluva a lot longer than Simon and Garfunkel do in America, but without the song’s resonant sense of hope and expectation. Perhaps it’s because he’s constructed the play with plenty of Verfremdungseffekt between the narrators and the moments of enactment, but whilst Rosenfield seems to promise an exploration of American division in his introductory programme notes, the theatrical experience nibbles around it with a few gentle pastiches across the 74 characters introduced in the play.

However, whilst the writing is not especially pacey – despite the best efforts of director Joseph Winters – this production has assembled an excellent cast. Jakob Lovick (who plays Clint but also, memorably, Uncle Larry and various other bit players) is profoundly watchable and displays impressive range. With outstanding physicality and plasticity of expression, Lovick’s clown training seems to be paying off; bringing richness, texture and variety to the production through a series of excellent performances. Lovick is a face to watch and I already started contemplating future casting for him. Marco Young isn’t given as wide a repertoire of characters to enact, but shows both solidity and subtlety as a performer. I was especially impressed by his portrayal of school principal, Betsy, via a credible revealing of the human soul rather than a female impersonation. A (heterosexual) falling-in-love scene hits all the right notes between Lovick as Clint and the other male actor as Betsy, with Young doing most of the emotional heavy lifting of the interaction. Likewise, his dramatisation of Randy the Subway sandwich-maker – who serves to show empathy with the frustrations of expected American exceptionalism (and hints to threats of demagogue appeal) amongst the sort of folks who US political strategists call Non-College White Males – avoids the stereotype trap without turning po-faced either. Rosanna Suppa is perhaps given the least interesting material with which to work. Gender-blind casting places them as Dan’s younger brother which is perhaps the least written character. Simply wanting to emerge from the elder Austin’s shadow and return home just isn’t a strong enough dramatic imperative on which to build a character. Suppa is given many roles in sketches from the travelogue but these are pastiche moments that don’t necessarily serve the story beyond embellishment, even if some are amusing.

Rosenfield’s choice to go gently towards a coming-of-age tale is not necessarily the wrong one. I was pleased that he found humanity and humour in favour of a broadside. But, despite a formidable cast of performers, the script is too long and the story in need of greater impetus and jeopardy. Just as jumping into the Mississippi River should be more than ‘a bit bracing’, this play needs to find its tension and intensity and, as they say on the basketball court, ‘hustle!’

3 Star Review

Review by Mary Beer

Inspired by the documentary film True Fans by Dan Austin, Bill Rosenfield’s new play spans America as three friends quest to answer life’s big questions and explore our common humanity. In the wake of an election, the consequences of which still threatens to topple Democracy as we know it, three friends seek an escape from the internet and the real world, embarking on a pilgrimage from California to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield Massachusetts. As they witness a country divided by ideologies and economics, they find not just a different version of themselves, but of their country as well.

Another America
In an epic road trip, three friends ride across the USA seeking different versions of their country and themselves

Company information
Directed and designed by Joseph Winters
Written by Bill Rosenfield
Lighting design by Catja Hamilton

Cast
Jacob Lovick, Rosanna Suppa, Marco Young

Listings information
Park90, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP
https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/

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Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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