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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

U.S.A.

Also see Tracy's review of Spamalot

U.S.A.
Amy Quiggins and Evan Huffman
American Century Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, has again found an obscure script and restored it to vibrant life. U.S.A., the 1959 adaptation of John Dos Passos' trilogy of novels by the author and Paul Shyre, encapsulates an epic story of America in the early 20th century into a fascinating miniature panorama with the help of six skillful actors.

Dos Passos wrote his novels - The 42nd Parallel, 1919 and The Big Money - in the 1930s; the books examine the time between 1899 and 1929, tracing the period when America grew into a world power. (The trilogy was clearly an influence on the works of E.L. Doctorow, especially Ragtime.) Dos Passos' characters are cogs in the great machine of American society, whose stories coexist with brief biographies of historical figures and the author's personal observations. The author and Shyre retained the multiple points of view in their stage adaptation, but streamlined the number of characters and events for clarity's sake.

Unlike a novel, which can sprawl in many directions and deal with many lead characters, a dramatic work benefits from a single central character and throughline for coherence. Shyre and Dos Passos have crafted the play around J. Ward Moorehouse (Evan Hoffmann), who rises from genteel but poor surroundings in Wilmington, Delaware, to command an international public relations empire. The marketing of image (or, today, spin) was a new science at the time, and Hoffmann manages to convey the iron will and equivocation that eventually emerge from behind the boyish face and sunny smile.

Hoffmann is well matched by Bruce Alan Rauscher and Kim-Scott Miller in a series of incisive portraits, specifically Rauscher as a sailor looking for his place in the world and Miller's hilarious cameo as a blustering health-food magnate.

The women are not quite as good as the men, but still effective: Monalisa Arias as the sailor's rather prim sister, who becomes Moorehouse's secretary; Patricia Hurley as Moorehouse's platonic companion, an interior decorator, and briefly as the notorious dancer Isadora Duncan; and Amy Quiggins as an heiress who helps Moorehouse achieve his dreams.

While all of the performers have their highlights, the most striking visual pictures come when they work together: re-creating the Wright Brothers' first flight, for example, or the strongest moment, bringing to life Dos Passos' impressionistic poem of the burial of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

Director Jacqueline Manger keeps the production free of superfluous movement and other distractions on the neutral set by Michael deBlois. AnnMarie Castrigno's lighting design and the projections by James G. Champlain serve to anchor the scenes, along with Rip Claassen's evocative costumes and Brendon Vierra's sound design.

American Century Theatre
U.S.A.
June 23rd July 15th
By Paul Shyre and John Dos Passos
Player A (Alec, Orville Wright, Moorehouse): Evan Hoffmann
Player B (McGill, Debs, Edgecombe, Chairman, Bingham, Gleason, Reggie): Kim-Scott Miller
Player C (Joe, Ollie Taylor, Dick Savage): Bruce Alan Rauscher
Player D (Janey, Pat Doolittle): Monalisa Arias
Player E (Gertrude, Janey's Mother): Amy Quiggins
Player F (Eleanor, Mrs. Robinson, Isadora, Miss Simpson): Patricia Hurley
Directed by Jacqueline Manger
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-553-8782 or www.americancentury.org


Photo: Jeffrey Bell


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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