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The American in Me 

A look at modern American life, told through the story of an infertile wife and a husband who is struggling to define himself

Wednesday, Jun 27 2001
Jeannie (Bethanny Alexander), who's been trying for more than a year to have a baby, doesn't want to be a nail in her company's teamworking bridge. But when, at a company motivational seminar, she re-evaluates her self-quiz and rushes off to the appropriate group, she explains, "I thought I was thinking, but it turns out I was feeling." It turns out that this world premiere, written by Rebecca Gilman and directed by Amy Glazer, could use a bit more thinking and a little less feeling: It falls shy of success due to its problematic structure and lack of focus. Gilman is more successful at rendering the relationship between the emotional Jeannie and her analytic husband, Ben (Jeff Parker), who couldn't be further apart in their wish for children, and whose marriage ultimately falls victim to the societal and economic pressures of having a family. Caught between the desire of his rich father-in-law, Leeth (Julian Lopez-Morillas), to give his daughter everything she wants and the scientific advances of in vitro fertilization, Ben realizes that he's an expendable part of the fertility equation -- after he's jacked off into a cup. Like their unfinished house, Jeannie and Ben's marriage is a skeletal frame based on some dubious blueprint of the All-American Family (John Wilson's set design is astutely understated). But the play then wanders from fertility support groups to motivational seminars, throwing in a little North vs. South tension (the play takes place in Alabama, but Ben is from Boston), kids on Ritalin, and mothers on Prozac for good measure. Gilman paints a more complete picture of America with these details, but the show's structure can't support the content. The result is a lot of short scenes separated by blackouts, most ending with an explanatory punch line ("If this isn't anarchy, I don't know what is," the contractor [Robert Parsons] says of the house, as if the audience might be too dense to get the metaphor). This sitcomlike construction undercuts the play's more subtle transition from Jeannie's story of infertility to Ben's journey of self-discovery, otherwise beautifully illustrated by lighting designer Jim Cave's shadows of guitars projected on the house's back wall and sound designer Scott DeTurk's shift from country-music lyrics to classical acoustic guitar.

About The Author

Karen McKevitt


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