Working Theater’s production of American Dreams, hosted in our area by Round House Theatre, is a zany, interactive “game show” sponsored by a fictitious arm of the American government (combining pharmaceuticals, transportation and immigration), where the grand prize is the ultimate golden ticket – citizenship in the “greatest nation on earth!”
That’s right folks, three lucky (desperate) contestants compete head-to-head (via livestream Zoom) for a single shot at citizenship. Why can’t all three win? “Because we can’t just let everyone in,” co-host Chris White (Jens Rasmussen) scoffs dismissively.
In the minutes leading up to “showtime” audience members are led into a virtual waiting room by U.S. “Deputy Director of Culture,” Bree Coffman (India Nicole Burton) to answer a series of questions about their own backgrounds – where they, their parents and grandparents were born – as well as more lofty queries into what it means to be an American and what prospective citizens should have to “promise” to gain entry. Audience participation (including keeping your laptop or phone cameras on) is strongly encouraged, and the audience is quick to realize that we are not just part of the game—we are the judge and jury.
Following a patriotic sing-along (audience participation somewhat lacking) Coffman announces co-hosts White and Sherry Brown (playwright Leila Buck), who kick off the show with an exuberance bordering on mania, and introduce the three contestants: Adil (Ali Andre Ali) a chef from Bethlehem with visions of feeding America’s poor; Usman (Imran Sheikh), a Pakistani artist with a penchant for Star Trek; and Alejandro (Andrew Aaron Valdez), a medic and U.S. armed forces veteran deported to his native Mexico.
Each of the contestants is gunning to showcase an “extraordinary ability” in their chosen field (a nod to the O-1 Visa process), all the while answering a series of questions ranging from Constitutional provisions (many of which the audience would struggle to answer) to American popular culture and tastes. As the competition heats up, the hosts take frequent “temperature checks” from the audience to see “whose dream” we want to make come true—each check visibly ramping up the contestants’ anxiety and drive to perform.
Originally debuting before a live audience at the Cleveland Public Theatre in 2018, American Dreams transitions well to the virtual stage, maintaining its darkly comic, tongue-in-cheek satire of the American immigration system while forcing the audience to consider what we should require of our citizens (and whether we ourselves could pass muster).
Audience participation is a key factor in driving the 1 ½ hour show, which arguably runs long judging from the audience’s listlessness and wandering gaze. And some of the more pointed jabs at the immigration system felt heavy-handed and “preachy,” particularly to a DC audience well-schooled in immigration policy. But, overall, American Dreams is a pleasantly provocative way to spend an evening and a welcome return to the theater, albeit virtual.
Working Theatre, based in New York city, will continue its “2020 Election” virtual tour for the remainder of the fall in cities across the U.S.
Performances hosted by Round House Theatre are available through October 11, 2020. Tickets: $30. Details.
American Dreams. Created by Leila Buck & Tamilla Woodard. Written by Leila Buck. Directed by Tamilla Woodard. Co-produced with Working Theater and other national partners. Featuring Ali Andre Ali, Leila Buck, India Nicole Burton, Jens Rasmussen, Imran Sheikh, and Andrew Aaron Valdez. Performances listed at: www.americandreamsplay.com. Reviewed by Meaghan Hannan Davant.