The narrative espousal of the hard-working immigrant and the land of opportunity is turned upside down in My aMeriCa, a performance directed by Nicole Brewer and written by the performing Montgomery College students. When I saw the 8:00 pm performance of My aMeriCa on October 12th 2019, a production by the Montgomery College Rockville Campus’ theater department, it lived up to every expectation I had. I entered the Rockville Campus’ Theatre Arts building and saw a piece created by those unheard in American society.
My aMeriCa is a story for students by students, allowing them to express their version of America apart from a patriotic and mythologized view. This method of storytelling granted the audience access to unique American viewpoints which many of us fail to understand in our egocentric and modern lives.
Through My aMeriCa, I received a secondhand account of the conflicting American dream of bettering an individual’s reality and the American reality of a wistful dreaming of individual prosperity.
A common theme throughout the performance was the social isolation the actors confronted, seemingly as a consequence of American exceptionalism and individualism. Many of the performers were uprooted from their communities or never had a communal upbringing until they entered the world of theater. As a person who views a sense of community as something essential to a healthy upbringing, I was moved by this cry from the dark. It appeared that those who had come from poorer and richer backgrounds were both victims of this isolation.
I was left thinking about how affluence and poverty, while seemingly opposites, are both harmful to the psyche of those who experience it.
The structure of My aMeriCa is unlike a traditional Aristotelian structure due to the lack of any true central plotline. Instead, each student-actor spoke about their involvement with America within an overarching narrative of it being a school assignment. These stories within a story often followed a similar structure. The student would begin with an observation of American expectation vs. American reality and the emotional tension would increase as they reflected on their struggles in America. The performers would usually follow this by expressing what they learned from this struggle and explain how they learned to accept their reality of their situation. It would then be another student’s turn to start their story and the cycle would repeat. This narrative structure had the benefit of smoothly transitioning between stories and creating a cohesive whole.
The quality of the play was exemplary and showcased the power that a student performance can produce. Perhaps the most impressive part was the musical ability that some of the performers were able to flawlessly transition into. Those who chose to express their experience through some musical means were -without exception- passionate and talented. One actor, a young student from the Philippines devastated my emotions. He sang about the contrast between the crowded world of the Philippines and the lonely world of the United States. His voice rung with longing for his home. I had brought an old friend of mine to view the play with me. He is not a person with any particular interest in theater and was floored by this performance. In Aristotle’s analysis of theater, he speaks of the purpose of theater as reaching catharsis or release from repressed emotions. In this zeitgeist of Weltschmerz, to my friend and I, these performances brought exactly that, catharsis from the pain of existence.
From a technical standpoint, My aMeriCa was simple yet effective. Most of the actors wore simple everyday clothing as costumes, emphasizing their role as Montgomery college students. This simple choice in clothing reinforced the illusion of accessibility, that anyone could be on the stage and it just happened to be the actors on stage. During the introduction, the stage was completely illuminated and free of any obstacles with the notable exception of a book case the actors could enter and exit through. This choice presented every actor to the audience, who were crowded on the stage at the same time and introduced the audience to those who would soon be speaking at them. As the actors began telling their stories, a simple spotlight sufficed to draw the focus to the speaker.
After seeing My aMeriCa, I knew I had to recommend it to some other friends (unfortunately it was just playing one more show and no one was able to make it). The play was as gratifying as it was thought provoking. I can honestly say this is the best performance I’ve seen out of Montgomery College Theater, and I look forward to seeing more. I hope the people who worked on this play were proud of it, as I’m proud of them.
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