Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

In 'bobrauschenbergamerica,' a surreal slice of the USA

"Art was not a part of our lives," declares Bob's flat-accented, floral-muumuu-bedecked mother in Tom Dugdale '03's production of "bobrau-schenbergamerica."

The same might be and has been said by many a student here at Dartmouth. Well, a pox on any and all who claim that theater is not alive and thriving here. Hanover may not be a booming metropolis, but one need only look to the amazing wealth of student productions this spring to find proof that the town is an amazing hub for the arts in the Upper Valley.

Over the past several weeks student productions have enlivened campus, from the Bema to Bradley to the Bentley. This weekend the theater department is continuing in this heartening trend by offering up an impressive performance of playwright Charles Mee's "bobrauschenbergamerica."

The production is the impressive culminating work of senior theater majors Tom Dugdale '03, Sabrina Peric '03 and Dan Soule '03. It is the first-ever entirely student-run production to grace the stage of the Moore Theater. It is an hour and a half of vivid color and tantalizing eye candy. It is a tribute to an artist, to performance art and to America. It is a kitschy, campy, literate, musical, simple, humorous, witty, sharply directed, expertly timed, poignant, brilliantly performed and insightful romp through Americana.

Above all, however, it is a play about America as a nation and the people who live in it. Dugdale and Peric met Mee several summers ago when he was visiting campus with the New York Theater workshop. They were so impressed with his message and his support of student work that they decided to embark upon the wild ride which is "bobrauschenbergamerica."

"It's an important piece because it is very timely," Peric said. "I see nothing more pertinent at this point in time in this country than asking what America is and precisely what it means to be an American. The 20th century was a crossroads for America, and we need to reassess what the American dream means anymore. As an artist with a responsibility to society and politics, I feel that we have to ask those questions."

Hearing such comments from a Croatian-Canadian expatriate is interesting and remarkably insightful, to say the least. In the wake of Sept. 11, the war with Iraq and a year of general trial and tumult for the American populace, Peric couldn't be more correct in her recognition of a thirst for rediscovering a national identity.

Mee's play is certainly not a blindly patriotic piece of whistling-Dixie propaganda but rather an intelligent and artful tribute to noticing the simplicity and beauty in our lives. As part of the design crew, Peric pointed out that she was also particularly interested in examining the clash and potential synthesis between America's pursuit of an ideal, or a hyper-conception of itself, and a plastic, mass-produced consumer reality.

Bob Rauschenberg was one of America's proudest and perhaps least-recognized avant-garde artists of the 1950s and 1960s. He was a painter, an installation artist and one of the first to employ silk screening and collage techniques in the early years of pop art.

Above all, however, Rauschen-berg's art strives to find profound beauty in the ordinary and the everyday. Thus he became one of the forerunners of the "found art" movement, creating pieces out of old tires, stuffed chickens, old fabric, house paints, magazine clippings and other everyday objects.

Of his work, Rauschenberg has said, "I choose to ennoble the ordinary I want it to look like something it is. My art is about just paying attention -- about the extremely dangerous possibility that you might be art."

In his simple but deeply insightful characters, Mee has found a way to embody precisely this mission and philosophy in a dramatic form. One might even go so far as to deem the characters "found characters," with names like Bob's Mom, Wilson and A Child. These seem to be characters picked up along the roadside, whom anyone could know.

"bobrauschen-bergamerica" is the living, breathing rendition of Rauschenberg's art installations, and as such it engages the audience in a manner much like a piece on display in a museum. There is no overarching narrative to the play, yet at the same time each scene, each movement in the sequence of images and words speaks a truth and beauty to the audience which is contingent upon what that audience member brings to the table. It is not a piece to be passively observed; rather it is a work to let wash over you, to laugh with, to be still with, to ponder and to wonder at.

If this all sounds a bit too heavy for your Green Key weekend, rest assured that this is not the case. In addition to being thoroughly thought-provoking for the theatrically minded, it is also an incredibly accessible work. The cast and crew have put together a tight production with seamless dramatic and comic timing which is simply not to be missed.

It hops and dances between overlapping story lines ranging from a love triangle, to a philosophical diatribe on time and space, to a gay romance, to a motherly reflection on her boy's childhood. If none of this has won you over yet, it's well worth the $1 admission simply to see Steve Kantor '03 skillfully roller-skate around the stage in a white spandex body suit and red socks.

If even that doesn't do it for you, the gods and bacchanalian revelers of Green Key amongst you will undoubtedly be satiated by several stunning musical numbers and one priceless romp as a happy couple rolls around half-naked on a vodka-covered plastic sheet for all the world to see. Indeed, there is a good time to be had not only on Webster Ave., but in the Moore Theater, too.