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The Mass Media

America is more than Red, White and Blue when it’s Bobrauschenbergamerica

America is more than Red, White and Blue when its Bobrauschenbergamerica

Bobrauschenbergamerica is the long, hard to pronounce name of Charles L. Mee’s play, which is being performed at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge until October 8th. Named after the famous visual artist Robert Rauschenberg, Mee’s play takes a performance art spin to a visual artist’s vision of the world, in clips and segments of the real and non-real. The performance is a remarkable melting pot of characters, sets, props and lighting; it is moving art.

The set of bobrauschenberg opens with a plain canvas draped over a tall wall. Within seconds an elaborate, light-bulbed American flag is revealed as the interesting array of characters, one on roller skates, unveils it. The set moves around the flag, props are added and taken away and doors are built into the flag design, as well as windows.

The light-bulb designs reflect different scenes and create various moods of lighting throughout. It also acts as a space for black and white photography projection, the pictures of Bob as a child. The audience soon learns from his typical country mother (who is continually serving country food and fresh lemonade) that art “was not a part of our lives”.

As the play progresses we see snip-its of American life; “the most wonderful, and frightening thing about America – that it is a place where people make up their lives as they go”(Charles Mee). The play consists of characters that span race, age, economic and social status, sexual orientation, and physical appearance. We see the make up of human culture; selfishness, selflessness, determination, inner turmoil, emotional conflict, and love.

This culmination of elements creates what is true of human nature, which is the pureness of the individual and rings true in all people. The existence of life is art; rather beautiful, quirky and sometimes shockingly disturbing.

The way in which the play moves, the pacing, adds to its comic timing. One moment the entire ensemble is dancing, singing, and performing improvisational film scenes, then instantly everyone comes to a static halt. Then they return to the self-awareness of social situations, fully equipped with the awkwardness of looking at oneself without having a specific direction.

The characters embody various parts of American life: Susan, a woman who loves men who ignore her and stops loving them once they notice her.The black businessman Wilson, who’s on the verge of mental collapse, due to his love for Susan. Phil, the trucker, whose girlfriend is a bikini-clad Asian American with an exhibitionist streak (Note: their scene in an old-fashioned bath-tub). Two homosexual male lovers, with an interest in opening a Chicken business (complete with a surplus of chicken jokes, thanks to Phil, the trucker’s random comedy act).The homeless man with an intricate vocabulary is by far the most enlightened character in the play.

A minor character, Bob, Pizza Boy sociopath-murderer, and my personal favorite, commanded his role. He had precise comic timing, jumping between manic rants into awkward social inadequate communication, which made the audience uncomfortable in their seats, but was highly entertaining.

Overall, the play is one where plot is skewed and purposefully underdeveloped. It appears to be mostly improvisation. You don’t need to know exactly what’s happening or why.

You don’t need to know when it takes place, who the characters are or how they’re connected; you just know they are in some way, in whatever way you want to connect them. This is art. Art is a part of our lives as Americans, the way we are, the rights we have, and our ability to take life and twist it into our liking. That is what we see here. Bobrauschenbergamerica is a true gem and worth seeing.

Bobrauschenbergamerica: through Oct. 8 thAmerican Repertory Theatre 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge MA 02138Red Line: Harvard Square StopTickets: www.amrep.org