REVIEW: Looking for America (The Basement)

Review by Rachael Longshaw-Park

[Blink and you missed it…]

Looking for America appeared at the Basement for a one only late night performance within the theatre’s upstairs green rooms. It has been on a small tour around living rooms, cafes, offices and communes across Auckland. Written and performed by Indigo Paul and directed by Katie Burson, Looking for America is a slow burning solo show that follows Indigo (Paul) as she takes an over-crowded Greyhound bus from the desert of Arizona to the city of Seattle, and a journey through her own imagination.

The main storyline follows Indigo’s life for two long days after she makes a break for it from her “friend” (aka her long-distance boyfriend who refuses to label it such). During her trip she contemplates her love for him, her frustrations about their relationship, and recounts their supposed final conversation. This is interspersed with the inner monologues of three famous women from history, who each have their own qualms with the men in their lives. Each of the women’s fates are determined or overshadowed by men, much like Indigo’s (and like most fictional women characters). Paul carries the show with confidence, managing to slip in and out of each narrative with a cool energy. Her range of character and accent work is admirable.

The most interesting and promising aspect of Looking for America is the investigation into the use of space. The production starts in a Greyhound bus formation: 2 by 2 with a small walkway between the seats. The live musician and composer, Ben Tolich, welcomes us over the P.A. system to our Greyhound bus and informs us of our journey ahead. Shortly afterwards, our protagonist bustles onto the bus – over encumbered with luggage – and squeezes past the audience with little notice to whom or what she bumps and jostles out of the way as she searches for a seat. She notes that someone has already taken the “best seat on the bus” (backseat, middle if anyone had any doubts) and reluctantly pushes her way back to the only empty seat. The crashing of audience and performance space is uncomfortable and an accurate portrayal of the intimacy of public transport.

As the play progresses both the performance and audience space move into a neighbouring room, while the opening seating arrangement is changed into a circle for an interrogation of the couples in the room. There’s no doubt these examples change from performance to performance due to its recent history of differing, alternative venues, which implies the piece is easily transposed. At times the movement and changes feel cumbersome and clumsy; when you take audience from behind their fourth wall, they can struggle with taking the incentive for fear of blurring their role as purely observer and not to become an intruder on the stage. Yet, this is the risk taken when playing with adventurous staging, and here it does pay off as the feeling still echoes that of long haul travellers, awkwardly shuffling, some more keen than others, and mostly avoiding eye contact with the people they share a space with.

There is one aspect that stands out in poor taste: during the latter leg of Indigo’s journey she agrees to sleep on the shoulder of a fellow passenger who then proceeds to grope her in her sleep. This involves some physical comedy, and is brushed off by Indigo (both character and playwright) with no further mention. To play it off as a joke, and to fail to deal with it later in the script makes the act feel like a cheap bit in order to get laughs and garner sympathy for our protagonist; even if that isn’t the intention it’s a clumsy handling of sexual assault. The action simply doesn’t move the piece forward and could benefit from serious revision, especially in the current climate.

The core investigation of the piece asks what it means to be a woman in love with a man. Whilst the threaded narratives of Helen of Troy, or Mileva Einstein (Maric) entertain deeper ideas about the effect of men on their women, the question is left mostly unanswered and so are our questions about Indigo’s own conclusions about her own relationship and where she will go from here. In the end, her journey of self-discovery lacks the discovery needed to feel satisfying as our Greyhound ride comes to a close.

Looking for America continues to tour alternative spaces and living rooms. See their Facebook page for details. 

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