The American Family

Fri 5th – Fri 12th August 2011


Leonie James

at 09:28 on 7th Aug 2011



The American family is the product of collaboration between students at Bucknell University in Pennslyvania, and Western Washington University. A series of monologues, short scenes, and group work tells the students’ stories. We’re told that the stories we hear are based on the students’ own experiences. Perhaps this is why the characters came across as so believable. A Korean immigrant’s story, in particular, stood out as holding the audience’s attention, and making them laugh, before telling us a little bit more and turning the story tragic.

Despite having no linear narrative, the play maintained an enjoyable continuity as recurring characters came back to tell us a little more of their story. The boy bringing his boyfriend Mark Andrews home for Thanksgiving told his story in three parts, which worked well as what started as a serious piece, became comedic, and ended in sadness. The line between comedy and tragedy was experimented with throughout this play, and to great effect. Some of the characters we met were pleasant, funny and welcomed by the audience. Others had less pleasant stories to tell. The seriousness of the subject matter sometimes touched, was offset by those moments where cast delivered one-liners which had the entire audience laughing. The three mothers, talking to their daughters about college, demonstrated the difficulties of fitting in in America, when you are originally from a different cultural background. Rather than demonstrating this by having the children weep and wail about their situation, we listened to their mothers, and the scene was played for comedy more than anything. This did not lessen the message, but delivered it more effectively.

The main issue I had with the play, were the attempts at physical theatre. In parts, these attempts worked: the ‘creature’ at the beginning was wonderful. In others, I personally felt the staging and movement detracted from the play itself. Having an actor stand on a ladder, whilst a pyramid of umbrellas stood beneath her, felt unnecessary. Torches were over-used, and I wanted to see the actors try something different. That said, we must remain aware of the limits of a Fringe venue.

All in all, the American family is an enjoyable look at very real issues. The focus is America, but some of the issues covered are very much universal. The actors play their parts well, and create believable characters in short space of time. You do need to go to this play with an open mind. There is no linear narrative, as we hear fragments of different characters’ stories. Some characters come back to tell us more, but others vanish after a single speech. On a personal note, I didn’t particularly enjoy the use of physical theatre, but this is a personal preference, and in parts it was done well. The actors have done well to create a piece of theatre which had its audience laughing frequently, but remaining fully aware of the plight of the characters. I cared about everyone whose story I heard, and achieving this through monologue, is commendable.


Joe Nicholson

at 10:00 on 7th Aug 2011



Reading the director’s notes on the program of The American Family before the show began, I didn’t quite what to expect: in truth, I found the declaration that the production aimed to “discover the truth streaming underneath the American Family Mythology” pretentious and clichéd. In reality, the performance was lively, innovative and self-consciously down-to-earth. The performance opens with a sarcastic voice-over treatment of the concept of the “American Family” as a species in the wild, which contrasts hugely with the subsequent presentations given by the individual actors.

The actors introduce themselves with their real names: the piece is ostentatiously created out of personal experience from the outset, but this never becomes uncomfortable. The style of the production shifts with the speech of individual characters on stage: sometimes we view parents recounting their first meetings, later we see four actors working together seamlessly to present what adulthood and growing up really means.

The fact that the memories and experiences presented by the actors are all real lends an intimacy to the performance, and such a large cast works superbly in creating episodes both which focus on the reminiscence of one actor, and others which portray heart-warmingly funny sketches of certain all-too familiar family roles in collections of witty one-liners. The production also manages to present memories that are more chilling and uncomfortable alongside these light-hearted reminiscences: the balancing of the humour to be found in the experience of family life and the deeper worries and problems that go alongside works well. The cast performs with honesty, and the individual actors appeal to the audience in their treatment of their own experience.

The staging is minimal, and certain props are employed alongside others such as a sheet and a ladder to create a variety of scenes in different ways, displaying a innovation in the production which is commendable. The selection of music, again, is successful, aiding the performance to balance the different ends of the emotional spectrum present in family life. Despite a few small line slips, The American Family was a complete success: hilariously written, seamlessly directed and choreographed, and realistic without compromising the intimacy created between the actors and the audience.


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