Friday, October 09, 2009

American Idiot: The Review

So I finally got to go and see this production a couple weeks ago and overall it just made me so happy, I can't even tell you. Michael Mayer really managed to pull out a fairly coherent storyline to pull the songs of American Idiot together, and I was truly impressed. The first number (of course, the song American Idiot) I was a little stunned by the whole thing and not sure if I was going to cheer or laugh because it was just so ODD hearing the familiar music but in such a different context. But that feeling basically subsided and I got into the story after that, wondering how it would all come together. And come together it did.

I don't want to give too much away, as they are talking about the show traveling, so hopefully you'll all get a chance to see it! But there are a couple things I want to talk about. One, "my" portrayal (aka the character "Whatsername") was absolutely fabulous. A take no shit punk rock chick who I felt proud to share a chosen name with (and I was SO GLAD that she kicked Johnny to the curb after he acted a complete self-centered violent asshole). Honestly everyone had a great voice on stage but I was blown away by her (Rebecca Naomi Jones). St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent), Tunny (Matt Caplan) and Heather (Mary Faber) were especially amazing as well.

The more in depth thing I wanted to discuss was this really interesting sequence with totally Orientalist themes. The play follows three men as the protagonists, and one goes off to war. He is injured and while he is in the hospital he has a dream sequence featuring an "Extraordinary Girl" (live version of the song below).

This Extraordinary Girl is lowered from the ceiling in a full Afghan style blue burqa and is then revealed to be in an "I Dream of Jeannie" sort of outfit. Naturally, right there I was going, "um, what's going on here?" But as the scene evolved and I realized this was a dream the soldier was having I actually rather liked it's inclusion. It just seemed to SO ACCURATELY capture the fantasy that men are presented with to justify our being in Afghanistan, and to entice them to go. Those poor helpless women, "so sick of crying" who are perfect and beautiful if only their repressive men would let them take off their veils. And those manly American men, must rescue them! It was a REALLY interesting sequence, with so much going on with race and religion and gender and nationalism that I think I'd want to see it a couple more times and really dissect it in the context of the rest of the play.

This isn't the only time race and gender are present in the story, there is a lot that goes on with Whatsername and Johnny, as I already mentioned, as well. And there is sort of an over-arching theme of the alienation of white youth in suburbia, I think. Because all three of the protagonists are cast as white men, by the way. But there was a real sense to me that, conscious or not, there is a lot being discussed, both in the album and the play, about the cultural loneliness that many white teens feel. I know I felt that way for a long time, that I had "no culture", because all the markers of "culture" seemed to be retained by specific ethnic communities (both white ethnics and people of color) and I was "just white".

Well, that "just white" is not some crazy random happenstance. The first thing demanded of white ethnic peoples when they landed in this country is to try and destroy anything that made them different from the normative. If you couldn't "fit in" you were exploited and marginalized. And anyone with the right features (that is: Anglo features) had the potential to avoid this, if they conformed. And so our ancestors did. And I think white youth have been rather lost without that ever since. I saw a lot of this in the subtext of the play as well.