‘The America Play’ takes a surreal look at the past

Steven Wright is Honest Abe in "The America Play." Credit: Rachel Dukeman/Plays & Players
Steven Wright is Honest Abe in “The America Play.”
Credit: Rachel Dukeman/Plays & Players

Plays & Players is going surreal with “The America Play.” The show tells the tale of an African-American man who looks an awful lot like Abe Lincoln — and is willing to get shot, for a small fee. That’s until he slips down into the Great Hole of History.

Two short related plays, both titled “Other American Cousins,” open the performance.

Director Suzana Berger, a Penn grad and artistic director of Dragon’s Eye Theatre, tells us about the mix of comedy and tragedy audiences can expect.

“The America Play” is described as “an experimental examination of the missing side of American history.” What history are we talking about?
Stories of people and experiences that have often been ignored in the history books: African-Americans, women, people who feel they have to choose between family and pursuing a dream, single parents raising families on their own, children growing up without a father — stories that are deeply woven into the fabric of this country.

So, a black Abe Lincoln charges a fee to get shot — is that a show he puts on? Or can anyone shoot him?
The Lesser Known, as he calls himself, invites the public “to pay a penny, choose from a selection of provided pistols and shoot Mr. Lincoln.” In the play, we meet several people who’ve chosen to spend part of their Sunday afternoon on this unusual activity. The audience is left to consider what motivates each of them, what they get out of re-enacting the assassination.

Does the whole thing take place in the past?
Yes, but there are a lot of anachronisms. I interpret that as a wink to the audience that this family’s struggles could really be happening at any time, and that history isn’t as neatly set and in the past as we think it is.

The storyline is pretty out there. Would you call it a drama? A comedy?
This play is constantly putting tragedy and comedy on top of each other, mixing them with invented history and jazz musicality. It’s a play about America, in all its complexity, so like America, it can’t be pinned down to just one category.

What were some challenges that came up when you were directing?
[Playwright] Suzan-Lori Parks leaves plenty of room for interpretation in her script — a lot of hints in the dialogue about what the actions might be. We experimented with many different possibilities in rehearsal. With a team of such creative actors and designers, the challenge was often choosing between several exciting options for the same moment that all served the story.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Thousands protest in New York over Eric Garner…

The Reverend Al Sharpton led thousands of chanting but peaceful activists in a march across Staten Island on Saturday to protest the death of Eric Garner.

International

Egypt calls for Gaza ceasefire as fighting rages

Egypt called on Israel and the Palestinians on Saturday to halt fire and resume peace talks, but violence continued unabated.

National

SpaceX rocket terminated in Texas test flight

A Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 9 rocket suffered an anomaly shortly after launch on a test flight, triggering its automatic termination system.

Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 22,…

The Percy Sutton Harlem 5K and NYC Family Health Walk-a-thon and Pakistan Day Parade and Fair will cause traffic delays and street closures in New York City this weekend. Plan…

Music

Arcade Fire concert review, Massachusetts, Aug. 19

Arcade Fire take the opposite approach of "Shut up and play the hits," and it works in their favor on the "Reflektor" tour.

Television

Recap: 'The Knick,' Season 1, Episode 3, 'The…

The third episode of Steven Soderbergh's "The Knick" finds Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) meeting an old flame and other characters embracing self-destruction.

Music

Webcast: Watch Polyphonic Spree live on Sunday Aug.…

Polyphonic Spree singer Tim DeLaughter sits with Metro Music Editor Pat Healy for a chat and then the big band performs live. It begins on Sunday at 9:30 pm

Movies

Matthew Weiner on directing 'Are You Here' and…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner discusses his movie "Are You Here," his history writing comedy and the tiny movie he directed in 1996 you can't see.

NFL

3 things we learned about the Giants in…

The Giants claimed the Snoopy trophy in a battle of MetLife Stadium tenants Friday night. But more importantly, the offense finally showed some life in…

NFL

3 things we learned about the Jets in…

The Jets lost the Snoopy Bowl, 35-24, to the Giants, losing the trophy and local bragging rights.

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

Wellbeing

Asics is giving away free gear around NYC…

Asics wants to see you on the court - and in the stands for the U.S. Open, which begins Monday - by giving away free…

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…