PARTICULARLY IN THE HEARTLAND created and performed by Theatre of the Emerging American Moment, directed by Rachel Chavkin (TEAM/New World Stage). At Enwave Theatre (231 Queens Quay West). To April 1, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 3 pm. $25. 416-973-4000. Rating: NN Rating: NN
It's an unfortunate reality that Canada is often tied to the apron strings of the United States. Just look at this week's kerfuffle over rescheduling the televised Juno Awards because of the two-hour version of U.S. reality show The Amazing Race.
The disconnect, the importance of things American versus things Canadian, happens in a different way with Particularly In The Heartland, one of this week's two openings at Harbourfront's New World Stage series. In fact, there are a few kinds of disconnect, not all having to do with national pride.
(Footnote: why two openings not just within one week but on a single night? Maybe Particularly's touring schedule required specific performance dates, but did the locally produced Static have to begin up the same evening? Given that the two shows probably appeal to the same viewer base, why split audiences for the opening performance?)
Created by New York-based Theatre of the Emerging American Moment (TEAM), an ensemble known for its collective, kinetic works, Particularly plays out an all-American scenario on a number of levels. It's set in Kansas, the geographic centre of the U.S., with a metaphoric reverberation on other levels, such as middle-American values (religious and other) and what lies at the heart of a nation.
Three Bible-believing farm kids (Frank Boyd, Libby King and Kristen Sieh) survive some sort of unspecified cataclysmic event and have to create a new life for themselves. Their parents never return from Wal-Mart, and the sibs think they've been taken up to heaven by Christ as part of an end-of-days scenario called the Rapture. The kids also have to deal with a trio of unexpected visitors: a pregnant space alien (Jill Frutkin), a woman named Dorothy who falls from the sky (Lucy Kendrick Smith) and the ghost of Robert F. Kennedy (Jake Margolin).
Great set-up for some serious comedy and social criticism, and we get it occasionally in this exuberant production, directed by Rachel Chavkin. But by the end of the show, all we have are those piecemeal bits. I don't mind that the narrative is disjointed, but the fact that the show rarely connects with us emotionally is a problem.
Maybe it's that Canadian/American thing, and we don't care about the same things with the same intensity. But Chavkin's program note, talking about "our basic humanity and…simple compassion," suggests the show will appeal to anyone, anywhere. That's not the case.
It gets off to a rousing start, with the cast fooling around onstage and eventually asking the audience to sing O Canada – we do, getting to our feet en masse and clearly impressing the visiting company with our energy – and then the American anthem The Battle Hymn Of The Republic, which segues into Robert Kennedy's assassination.
The idea here is that the death of one liberal ideal eventually leads, as we move from summer through fall, into winter and beyond, to the redefinition of American idealism and the American family.
The collectively created production features some striking moments, among them the party for the youngest child, whose birthday falls on July 4, and a revision of A Christmas Carol, in which Kennedy realizes the emptiness behind his political rhetoric. Less successful are episodes of audience involvement and movement work that doesn't heighten the production's drama.
The standout performances are those by King as the take-control but shy elder daughter and Smith as Dorothy, a delightfully twisted version of the character from The Wizard Of Oz, complete with ruby pumps, who carries her business-class plane seat (remember, she fell from the sky) around on her head.
The raw material's here for a fascinating show; it's just not been well developed or connected. My heartland was only touched sporadically.