the arts

Exhibitionism: Under Construction

A lively collage of all-American memories at once thoughtful, funny, and poignant

Reviewed by Jillian Owens, Fri., Oct. 5, 2012

Rocking the Rockwell: the cast of <i>Under Construction</i>
Rocking the Rockwell: the cast of Under Construction
Courtesy of Bret Brookshire

Under Construction

Mary Moody Northen Theatre, 3001 S. Congress, 448-8484
Through Oct. 7
Running time: 1 hr., 5 min.

Charles Mee's America is Christmas shopping and baseball and Sinatra. It's Thanksgiving dinner and dysfunctional families and love stories, immigrants and the American Dream, drive-in movies and disco music and diners. It's widespread discomfort with sex, deviance, perversion, and the existence of those things regardless. It is, as Bing Crosby sang, full of "dear hearts and gentle people who live and love in my hometown."

Under Construction, Mee's 2009 panoply of vignettes, tosses these all-American memories together to describe our ever-changing constructions of the home-sweet-home of the brave. With exceptional direction from Mary Moody Northen Theatre Artistic Director David Long, the St. Edward's University production does just what the script requires. Long and his crisp production team beautifully execute their own version by following Mee's suggestion to keep some scenes, omit others, add new ones, and change the order, maintaining flawless transitions throughout. Under Construction offers no obvious throughline, but it's not meant to; inspired by Jason Rhoades' disordered art installations, it's a jumble of scenarios and styles that prove you don't need a single plot or cast of characters to tell a great story.

The result is a deep draught of mostly mid-century nostalgia with enough self-awareness to recognize the delusions that can accompany excessive reverence for the past. As one character remarks, "I remember life was just as serious then as it is now." Representation of the now was the show's only weakness; a brief encounter with a young blogger seemed out of place among scenes such as baseballers singing "The Best Is Yet to Come" or a Fifties-style guide to a first date with the most inventive stage kiss ever, courtesy of Hannah Marie Fonder and Matthew Garcia.

Making the script's conscious sentimentality palpable are T'Cie Mancuso's costumes that look like they jumped out of a Norman Rockwell painting (Mee's other inspiration); Leilah Stewart's versatile set, which becomes everything from dining table to automobile, and displays iconic American artifacts like a bowling pin and typewriter to great visual effect; and Kathryn Eader's lighting and Buzz Moran's sound, which create a sense of place for each scene.

The lively ensemble is up to the challenging collage, slipping in and out of characters with ease. Equity guest artists Amy Downing and Greg Holt shine, especially as the parents in the opening scene's catastrophic turkey dinner. The student actors give polished performances without exception, though Lindsley Howard, Tyler Mount, and Sophia Franzella stand out. At once thoughtful, funny, and poignant, Under Construction only furthers my expectation of nothing but well-rounded theatre from St. Ed's.


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