City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Mission Drift Review

By edg - Posted on 09 August 2011

Libby King and Brian Hastert
Show details
Traverse Theatre
Running time: 
Nate Koch (General Manager), Dave Polato (Production Stage Manager), Joe Cantalupo (Technical Director), Ben Gullard (Assistant Director)
Libby King (Catalina Rapalje), Brian Hastert (Joris Rapalje), Amber Gray (Joan), Mikaal Sulaiman (Chris), Heather Christian (Miss Atomic/Piano), Matt Bogdanow (Percussion), Gabe Gordon (Guitar/Bass)

This is New York based The TEAM's (the acronym stands for "Theatre of Emerging American Moment") fourth visit to the Fringe, but it's the first time that I have seen them perform. Now I feel like I've been missing out.

This was great. A smart, impressionistic, vital mix of theatre, dance, poetry, myth, economics, humour, and fantastic music, it works as a rock n' roll parable on the American way of life, seen in the context of the economic meltdown and fallout in the US housing market.

The location is Las Vegas, that shimmering, desert metropolis, where recent, doomed capitalist experiments look the most lurid, insane, and extreme. The story, which evolved through workshops and included research trips to Las Vegas and interviews with Wall Street insiders, follows Joan, who is trying to get back on her feet after losing her job at a casino, and Chris a cowboy indian who has been forced into selling his land which has been subsumed by Sin City.

Joan is visited in her distress by a sassy, showbiz siren Miss Atomic who, like a cross between her personal booster and a greek chorus, urges her to pick herself up and start again.

By way of inspiration, Ms Atomic introduces us to Catalina and Joris, a teen, Dutch couple as they step off the boat in New Amsterdam (later New York) in 1624.

In this parallel narrative which eventually ties in with Joan's current predicament, we witness a kind of mythical every-couple roaring through 400 years of history and the American continent in an accelerating cycle of reinvention-growth-expansion-destruction.

The show doesn't fit neatly into a category: it's both musical and theatre. The band is on stage – bassist, drummer, and Ms Atomic, the petite chanteuse in indian head-dress playing, atop, or draped over a white baby grand. The cast all sing, act, dance excellently.

A gleeful experiment, Mission Drift still packs a punch as it mocks the wide-eyed optimism and emptiness of America's entrepreneurial fixation. While we are invited to laugh at the characters' dumb innocence in scenes such as when they crack open a beer, don sunglasses and fire up an H-bomb, these are characters whose emotional rollercoaster you're happy to ride along on. They may leave everything trashed in their wake but they are not totally unsympathetic. Probably because, in their simple dreams and desires, they to some extent reflect us too and our society.

Heather Christian's music, with its Southern blues, gospel, and soul influences, was a good mix of uptempo and slower numbers with, appropriately, Elvis standards Viva Las Vegas and Suspicious Minds.

In the spirit of experimentation, TEAM also muck around with theatrical convention. For example,  narrated stage directions pre-empt action, and at one point a heavily pregnant Catalina casually crosses the stage to ask an audience member's help setting up chairs and with watering her precious tulips (an investment she brought over from Holland).

I also liked the way that the lyrics for the songs are projected discretely on stage, as it not always easy to clearly discern lyrics for songs you haven't previously heard. The multimedia effects combined nicely with simple staging (mushroom cloud scene being one).

At two hours it would seem a long show but it doesn't outstay its welcome. In fact, considering how much music is in the show it's amazing how much they cram in. Dialogue is stripped bare and essential. Lines like "Stay. Grow-up. Build-up. And double-down."

The point about man replacing nature with this gaudy representation of nature and the artificiality of everything in Las Vegas – the mechanical buffalo and indians, and underground forests - may have been overstated. But that's a small quibble, especially since I wholeheartedly sympathise with the eco-sentiment.

In short, this is really a very watchable show illustrating how the economic mantra of Constant Growth ultimately leaves its land exhausted, and its people embittered and spiritually dessicated. And it has a good time while it does it.

With financial markets faltering again and the streets burning, it is so very appropriate for our time.

Show times:  Til 14 August

Tickets: £6-£17