"We Americans love to hear stories about us."
This is the opening line in Jim Lantz's Note From the Playwright in the playbill for American Machine - A Play About Us. Now, if more movie makers would follow this so true advice and make more movies about us, I, and I think many other folks, would be happier movie goers. American Machine is a play though, not a movie, and I am writing about it tonight for three reasons:
1.) It did have music (note, this is a music blog) which was done by one of my faves, Brett Hughes with vocals enhanced by the phenomenal Shannon McNally, who incidentally are both on tour as we speak.
2.) Jim Lantz was the first playwright to ever approach me about the potential to do publicity for a theatrical show. I have done work for shows before, but never approached directly by the writer, and this felt good. The work didn't actually turn out to be a gig, but the concept of the play certainly was of interest on a personal level and I immediately respected Jim's style, honesty, and energy.
3.) I just returned home from watching the play and want to share it with my readers, since it still has over a good week running at the FlynnSpace and you should see it!
As an inactive actress myself (not so much by choice, but having takien the public relations career path instead, although I am still a professional storyteller and my life is always a stage), I do not find myself in attendance of many theatrical productions. This is probably for two reasons - (a) I probably deep down would rather be on stage and (b) I spend my time and money going to rock concerts. I also think I have often been bored by overly done, probably over-my-head productions and prefer movies on my couch. And these reasons is part of what made American Machine stunning.
Plot: Part parable on the American dream, part cautionary tale taken from the headlines, American Machine tells the story of a great factory that once made parts for classic American cars. As a makeshift family of six friends comes together each night to work, they're soon faced with rumors that their employer will be downsizing—or even closing altogether. As they begin working on a new order—making buckets and mops for Wal-Mart—the prospect of being split up looms before them, and their dedication to the once-proud factory is put to the test.
From the moment I sat down, I felt like I was looking through a large window into the back of a factory building. Everything about the set was exact - old wood, falling down brick walls, vintage Coke machine, orange plastic chairs - it was truly authentic and very detailed, which I admired. The set served three action locations, but all worked well almost as one set, as the lights did a tremendous job (as they should in any small theater) at changing scenes, as opposed to changing sets.
After watching the first few interactions, once all characters were introduced, I was sucked in. The FlynnSpace is small and intimate and I was up front making me very close to the action. But, instead of feeling weird because I was so close, I felt like I was watching a big screen movie because the acting was so right on. From my years of acting on a real stage (and in my own movie) I have learned the number one rule in acting - is re-acting. Re-acting to everything, not so much to take away from the main action, but enough to make it real. American Machine was filled with re-acting which is in my opinion what made it so touching and so real. I was especially entertained with the interactions between the two women. Having worked a third shift job several times in college, while not at a factory, it was still a tedious third shift, I could easily relate to the mood and types of people who work the graveyard shift.
The story and writing was fantastic. I knew it was going to be good, from what I had read, from the buzz that has been about town, and from the first impression I got from Jim when we met at Muddy Waters to chat about publicity. So, I was already going in with high expectations and was definitely touched, if not moved by the content, dialogue, and delivery. Jim Lantz has it right on - "we Americans love to hear stories about us." Maybe we are an egotistical lot, but we're people just the same and we like to know there's always a chance of things getting better. Kudos to all involved and if you can - check it out - www.americanmachinetheplay.com.