Barbara Castonguay

American Fiesta at Renaissance Theaterworks

By - Apr 25th, 2010 01:56 am
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Can Fiestaware serve as a metaphor for political and idealogical acceptance in the modern world? Can it represent and illuminate the secrets of human relationships, and bring civil, thoughtful discourse back to the dinner table?

John McGivern in American Fiesta. Photo by Jean Bernstein.

In a word, yes.

Steven Tomlinson’s play American Fiesta follows a middle-aged man who is dealing with his Oklahoma parents’ opposition to his same-sex marriage by obsessively collecting vintage Fiestaware. In his comedic cross-country search, he finds hope and acceptance in addition to some fabulous new serving bowls.

Tomlinson was inspired to write the play during the political and cultural mudslinging that made up the 2004 presidential elections. Complete polarization. Red States vs. Blue States. Fear, distrust and separation. In the world of Fiesta, there are no mis-matched pairs. Pieces are purchased individually. Everything is different and yet everything fits.

We find as well that the prize is not in perfection. While initially Steven seeks to find every piece of Fiestaware in perfect condition, he finds the history of the flaws in each piece are what make them worth collecting.  A blue Fiesta bowl triggers memories of childhood, of a long-lost relative.  It gives you a glimpse into their life and others who have come before you.  The superficial layer is never the true object of desire — feelings of acceptance, of understanding and of closeness are the “serotonin slushie” we’re after.

John McGivern in American Fiesta. Photo by Jean Bernstein.

Directed by Jenny Wanasek, Renaissance Theaterworks’ production is thoughtful, timely, and entertaining. Skilled graphic design by Tim Chiappetta and minimalistic set design by Steve Barnes added humor and a distinctly modern edge, taking us seamlessly from rural Oklahoma to a corporate boardroom where Steven studies the average citizen’s political brain activity.

John McGivern is endlessly charming in the role of Steven. His humor, wit, and physical presence convey as much about his characters as any of Tomlinson’s brilliant writing. McGivern plays over twenty roles in this production, from Steven’s parents to a blind collector, and he inhabits them all fully. A one-man-show is a Herculean feat for any actor, and a veteran like McGivern has an aptitude for Herculean feats.

Above all, American Fiesta is a play about hope, acceptance and imperfection. It’s about divisions between us that could simply unite us.

It’s an important lesson. Now when will we learn it?

Categories: A/C Feature 2, Theater

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