Spotlight: To Shining Sea: The Imperial American History Pageant
Bedlam's To Shining Sea careens headlong through five centuries of American history in 90 minutes, along the way portraying events that include genocide, territorial expansionism, and myriad wars of aggression. The action begins with Boy Scout Bueche (John Francis Bueche, who also directs and cocreated the show) freeing the sadly caged Ameribaby, a doll symbolizing our national naiveté who has been brought up under the impression that his country is unambiguously on the side of good. What follows is a loosely structured attempt to prove otherwise, although the bitter dose of historical truth comes in the sweetened form of a series of TV spoofs. Conquistador Kirk discovers America in a Star Trek parody, albeit one preoccupied with slavery, cruelty, and disease. Up next is Wheel of Aggression, in which audience members try to answer questions from Bueche about America's various military adventures. The five-person cast tackles various roles, with standouts including Tom Snell playing Saddam Hussein (Snell also cocreated the work), Heather Wilson presenting Ben Franklin as an Enlightenment snake-oil salesman, and Ivan Weiner personifying Russia during the big dust-ups of the previous century. Throughout the show we see the smiling face of the self-deluded Columbia (Rah Kojis). In one moment, Kojis goes Incredible Hulk on Guatemala at the behest of United Fruit; in the next, she schleps pea soup as June Cleaver, sitting across from Henry Kissinger. While this show never comes across as ponderous, it does make a compelling case that, in the rigged game of the international stage, our leadership has often exploited the best of the citizenry's beliefs as rhetorical cover for the worst behaviors. It's a production that needs a decent-sized crowd to really ignite, and the Sunday matinee I attended sometimes left the cast searching for energy. Still, the script's use of quotation and its restraint from embellishment stand out during a moment when pointing out obvious historical truths leaves one open to charges of disloyalty, or at least "partisanship." Yes, To Shining Sea has a slant, but don't worry about it too much. The other side has resources of its own.
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