Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

American Dreams
Cleveland Public Theatre
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's reviews of Sassy Mamas, Riverdance 20 and Hair and David's review of Boy


Imran Sheikh, Andrew Aaron Valdez, and Ali Andre Ali
Photo by Steve Wagner
The mood is set early for the Public Theatre's newest offering. You pass through a security checkpoint complete with metal detectors and security personnel. Once cleared you are given a questionnaire to fill out concerning your country of birth, parents' and grandparents' names as well as two questions concerning incoming aliens to the United States.

This is Leila Buck's American Dreams (directed and developed by Tamilla Woodward), the Cleveland-based game show where three contestants compete against each other with the prize being full citizenship. Adil (Ali Andre Ali), Usman (Imran Sheikh) and Alejandro (Andrew Aaron Valdez) are all vying for citizenship in "the greatest country in the world" and each has a story to tell.

The game show begins with the singing of the U.S. anthem and the three contestants are introduced by hosts Chris (Jens Rasmussen) and Sherry (Leila Buck). Over the course of the next ninety minutes, the three must answer questions about the government (the same ones used to test potential citizens), American preferences, and general knowledge. Each contestant is put on the "hot seat" and grilled mercilessly about their past and foreign connections. There is a skills competition (closely related to a talent segment), and lastly, each man is allowed to say in his own words why he wishes to come to this country.

Usman is an artist from Pakistan seeking a better life in a country that will not censure his cartoons. His knowledge of America is mostly gleaned from watching episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." His dream is to escape a land where everyone follows the same dress, diet and religion to a place where freedom and individuality reign supreme.

Adil is from Bethlehem where he runs a restaurant that caters to the growing tourist trade. The restaurant has an attached soup kitchen that feeds people who would otherwise go hungry. He is personable and easily likeable but a Palestinian.

Alejandro was born in Mexico but brought illegally to the United States when he was five. He enlisted in the National Guard at the age of eighteen and served a tour of duty in Afghanistan as a medic, but after his return to the states, he was pulled over for a defective taillight, found to be illegally in the country, and sent back to Mexico.

Throughout, everyone remains in character as a Floor Director Bree (India Nicole Burton) sees to the preparations for the show as well as warming up the audience. There is a make-up man, Brandon (Brenton Sullivan), seeing to everyone's looks, a props master, Linda (Lynna Metrisin), and two security personnel, hizey (Christopher Hisey) and Brownie (Joshua D. Brown). Voiceovers are done by Christopher Hisey and Samantha V. Richards.

The set is remarkably authentic, complete with contestant podiums, a huge Seal of the United States rug, and chairs for the hosts as well as applause signs and TV monitors, provided by scenic designer Ryan T. Patterson. The video and sound designer is T. Paul Lowry, and his efforts are splashed boldly across a huge video screen at stage center. It includes an awesome aerial video clip of downtown Cleveland at night at the start of the show and, as mentioned before, the security entrance.

Each show is unique and even the actors do not know who the audience will vote for or for that matter who will win that evening's contest. It is involvement theater at its best.

This is a family show with no adult language but a great civics lesson that all young people should be exposed to. With the early 7 p.m. start and run time of only 90 minutes this would be a great show to bring early teens and older.

With all the talk going on about Dreamers, the wall and deportation this is a work that truly hits home. It is not only a wake-up call for how precious our citizenship is but also how those freedoms should be shared with those wishing to join us and who could be useful members of our society. Bravo CPT, bravo.

American Dreams, through March 3, 2018, at Cleveland Public Theatre, in the James Levin Theatre located, 6415 Detroit Avenue in Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased online at www.cptonline.org or by calling 216-631-2727. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 7 p.m.


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