Spotlight: American Noise: The Savage Rebirth of the American Dream


America's brand name has certainly taken a beating of late, and one can be forgiven for walking into this show expecting a full-tilt assault on, let's say, preemptive war doctrine. But writer Cockroach and director Josh Cragun have gone for something admirably less knee-jerk with American Noise, ribbing the land of the free with such considerable affection that the audience scarcely feels the dagger slipping in. The action begins with Uncle Sam (Dave Gangler) on stilts singing "The Star Spangled Banner." Any notion that the act is ironic evaporates when the audience realizes we're supposed to rise in ritual respect. It's a nice choice, bringing the audience together in the idea that American ideals are worth taking seriously. Much of the story revolves around an all-American family: politician (Mitchell Frazier), his harried wife Zoe (Jeannie Lander), lunkhead son Max (Joe Herman), and angst-ridden teenage daughter Jaden (Kari Hammer). Their first scene comes with a sitcom laugh track and sound effects, but matters turn considerably more serious when Max tries to find validation by joining the military. Next stop: Baghdad. The rest of the show takes the form of a series of (variously successful) short skits, punctuated by funny snippets of raw animation. One of these tells the story of a young bootblack chasing the dream of solvency in a rapacious world. In another segment, a hard-up Uncle Sam shills for the lottery. Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty (Zoe Benston, with a world-weary French accent and tinfoil crown) take in a barbeque with our nuclear family, and then events move toward a surprisingly resonant conclusion. There are dead spots aplenty along the way, and a sense the cast may not be sure what tone to adopt at any given moment. Yet American Noise convincingly suggests that hard realism and conditional optimism are by no means mutually exclusive. It's almost enough to make you want to buy a Powerball ticket.