Friday, August 18, 2006

(I am) Nobody's Lunch

Robert Dawson Scott at Assembly

There are a lot of Americans in Edinburgh this year wondering what happened to their country. They don’t recognise a land dominated by religious fundamentalists — though, given that the Pilgrim Fathers quit England early in the 17th century because they thought it was a degenerate den of iniquity, perhaps they should not be so surprised.

But from the youthful, confused exuberance of Particularly in the Heartland, by the Theatre of the Emerging American Moment at the Traverse, to the cynical Levelland by the comic turned playwright Rich Hall, they clearly are having trouble connecting the land of Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July with the world of Rush Limbaugh and approaching Armageddon, in which so many Americans apparently believe.

Perhaps the only form grotesque enough to encompass the confusion is cabaret. (I am) Nobody’s Lunch, from the Civilians company of New York, has a script as sharp as a tack, clever songs, five terrific singer/performers led by the flame-haired Caitlin Miller, one pianist and a candy-striped set like a fairground tent.

What makes it all the more piquant is that almost everything said is based on verbatim interviews with Americans who were asked why they believed what they believed, mostly, though not exclusively about current events. The title comes from one particular line of thought, that we may all be some alien creature’s putative midday meal (belief in little green men is almost as widespread as belief in God in the US).

If the script is sharp, the music (by Michael Friedman) is sharper still. Even the harmonies have a fractured quality to them, reminiscent of Kurt Weill, putting one in mind of another time when cabaret flourished, the imploding Germany of the 1930s. My, how we laughed at the satire of the madness of the times, just as we laugh now.