‘Do you want to be respected? Or do you want to be envied?’
American Nightmare, the first of three plays to debut as part of The Other Room’s autumn season THE VIOLENCE SERIES, is set ‘in a world that is familiar but on fire’…a concept that is perhaps too close for comfort and yet I enter the small auditorium hoping to be swept away.
In the intimate atmosphere of The Other Room we are immediately plunged into a dark military bunker, sharing the small space with two isolated beings in their simply staged bunker.
As we anticipate the beginning of their curious narrative, they are pushed aside by the appearance of two cocktail drinkers on a higher platform, discussing business and an opportunity to create a more prosperous future on one of New York’s highest floors. A contrast slowly emerges between them, the beautiful Clara, confident yet vague in her assured and persuasive responses, and her well-dressed guest, Greg, whose charming Welsh accent displaces him amongst the high-rolling American falseness in which he finds himself…as well as his inability to enjoy a Dirty Martini. All is not as it seems even at the height of luxury.
In the bunker we’re introduced to Elwood and Daria, the latter curious and peppy, open about her somewhat unsavoury past, the former guarded but happy to dangle what information he claims to know in front of her. The dynamic between them, just as with the pair far away in a Manhattan bar, is stressful and fluid. A play of power imbalances, American Nightmare reminds us to eat or be eaten but does not lose its humanity, thanks to a very personable awkwardness and humour that seeps in amidst both tense relationships.
A simple staging gives way to digital projections in intervals, reminding us of the political unrest outside their narrative bubble, and somewhat outside our own.
With strong performances (and accents!) by all I recommend stepping into this snapshot of a broken world crafted by Matthew Bulgo, though you may not quite be escaping reality by doing so.
The Violence Series concludes at the Other Room on November 24 with Mari Izzard’s Hela. Book here.
Ffion Erin Williams