'American Laundry' airs out the concerns of a nation

by Antonio Valla | 5/12/03 5:00am

Like the intermittent downpours that soaked the Green last night, inside the Bentley Theater the audience was inundated with the delicate balance of satire, drama and comedy that was "American Laundry."

For two hours, those of us lucky enough to attend this thoroughly professional performance witnessed scenes and sketches that were meant to evoke pity and fear and an appreciation for tongue-in-cheek song-and-dance.

A true ensemble cast made up of Cliff Campbell '04, Andrew Dahl '05, Caz Liske '04, Hannah Putnam '03 and Liv Rooth '03 pieced together the performance from news articles and improvisations they created over the past month. The five set out on this artistic endeavor early in the term with no clear idea of what they wanted to say, but they had one goal.

"This production is born above all from our desire to work with each other," the program states. But as the play evolved, they sought "above all to ask questions about some of the joys and sorrows of American life."

And what a patchwork the piece was. The text touched on everything from health care to the war in Iraq to gun control -- but it wasn't all politics. The play also examined issues of family abuse, young love and teen angst. Particularly enjoyable was the musical score composed by Caz Liske '04, also a cast member. The actors improvised lyrics and choreography to accompany Liske's music.

Some highlights included the Statue of Liberty on trial, a five-minute family scene in which the actors said only "I love you" and "I hate you," a dream sequence, fetus reality TV and a hilarious encounter between God, Satan and George W. Bush.

Ostensibly the piece sought to provide the audience with a moment of comic relief. Silliness prevailed in almost every scene. But underneath the off-the-wall characters and pun-filled lyrics, behind the vaudeville poses and kick lines, a serious message showed through.

Perhaps most effective was the company's delicate control of dynamic contrast. The audience embarked on a daring adventure when it entered the Bentley, and the cast was willing to lead. Scenes provoked tears of laughter at one moment and tears of another kind an instant later. Emotions ran high, then low, then through the roof.

The combination of Liske's piano playing and the background music further enhanced the sense of contrast. The actors controlled both the pace and the tenor of the play at all times.

But when the high-powered performance came to a close, a very calm and somber song dismissed the audience. Unaccompanied and uninhibited, the actors summed up 120 minutes of biting commentary and outlandish antics with "Calling My Children Home," a bluegrass song in gentle five part harmony.

Credit for the success of this double-curtain-call performance should go to the vision and drive that these five performers molded into a hodgepodge masterpiece.

American Laundry was presented by the Displaced Theater Company and co-sponsored by the Dartmouth Greens and Psi Upsilon fraternity.