American Song

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In a single image, the promotional poster of American Song sums up the struggles at the heart of the play. The poster depicts actor Joe Petruzzi as Midwestern American everyman Andy (the solo protagonist), staring in wonderment at his outstretched hands. When we first meet Andy, he is building a dry stone wall with his bare hands. The wall is a metaphor for the perfect life Andy seemingly has – a house, a beautiful wife, an adorable son and a burgeoning career – all the classic trappings of the American Dream. Yet over the course of an uninterrupted 75 minutes, we hear Andy recount the events in his life and come to a realisation that the life he knows has slipped from his hands. What other decisions could he have made? Which foundational stones could he have laid better, so as to ensure that his life, and the life of his family and community, would have turned out differently?

From acclaimed Melbourne playwright Joanna Murray-Smith comes a searing examination of love, parenthood, regret, and moral culpability, set in gun-addicted American society. Undoubtedly, such a play would resonate quite differently among Australian theatre-goers compared to American audiences. But memories of the Port Arthur shootings in Tasmania two decades ago, as well as our continual exposure to news about the recent Las Vegas massacre and other mass shootings in the United States means that gun violence is not something terribly far from the Australian consciousness. The other main thread weaving throughout the play concerns the limits and responsibilities of parenthood. To what extent are parents responsible for the actions of their children? How can parents balance their children’s need for space and privacy while remaining vigilant if something is clearly not right?

References are made to throughout to Walt Whitman’s poems. In his collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, the celebrated American poet wrote about how the songs of individuals rise up and intertwine with the songs of others to create a beautiful harmony. But in American Song, the melodies we hear are harsh and discordant, and Andy’s song is ultimately one of deep sorrow.

American Song
Red Stitch Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel Street, St Kilda East
Till Sunday, 5 November 2017

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