Some Americans Abroad | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Some Americans Abroad 

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SOME AMERICANS ABROAD, Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, at Victory Gardens Theater. This 1989 comedy was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company--and expatriate playwright Richard Nelson perhaps obliged his sponsors by acidly etching Yank academics and students on a theatergoing trek to London and Stratford. The professors come across as pence-pinchers only interested in their careers who reduce great writers to seminar subjects. Engaging in petty infighting, they fling about accusations of sexual harassment, aim to get a Milton scholar who just isn't flashy enough dismissed, and ineptly try to conceal an extramarital affair. Oblivious to the charms of the places where Lamb, Wordsworth, and the Bard wrote, unable to see beyond their own classroom prejudices, and distrustful of modern plays, they're nevertheless snobbish, mocking other American tourists for their unabashed enthusiasm.

Given such easy targets, Nelson is wisely indirect, especially in his artful depiction of the awkward dinner conversations that frame the play. By the last one, we know just what everyone is concealing--or trying to conceal. James Bohnen's perfectly orchestrated staging expertly twists Nelson's many knives. Mark Richard as the department head oozes opportunism while Mark Montgomery is passionate as the colleague who actually dares to like what he sees. The play's women are basically peacemakers and so are less subject to Nelson's volleys; Erin Neal is particularly touching as a student wise to her elders' eccentricities.

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