In previous Edinburgh Fringe successes “Particularly in the Heartland,” “A Thousand Natural Shocks” and “Give Up! Start Over!”, Gotham’s the TEAM has proved itself a brilliant chronicler of the chaos and contradictions of modern America. Joining forces with the National Theater of Scotland for “Architecting,” the dynamic young company once again shows a happy disregard for the unities of time and place, straddling “Gone With the Wind” and Hurricane Katrina with cut-and-paste recklessness. But despite the dynamic performances and theatrical inventiveness, “Architecting” is hampered by an unwieldy script that seems weighed down by its source material.
We are in the Deep South in a space that is variously a country and western bar, a sleepy truck stop and an architect’s office about to be demolished to make way for Phoenix Meadows, a 220-acre TND — or traditional neighborhood development — where a genuinely traditional neighborhood once stood.
Jill Frutkin welcomes the audience with a self-pitying ballad (“Why has it been 50 f***ing years since I heard a good patriotic song?”), while clips from “The Price Is Right” flicker on the TV monitors above a building-site backdrop.
In a manner reminiscent of the Wooster Group, the company juxtaposes seemingly disparate elements only to reveal the hidden connections beneath the surface. Thus, historian and presidential grandchild Henry Adams (Jake Margolin) constructs a cardboard cathedral, while novelist Margaret Mitchell (Jessica Almasy) bashes away at a Remington typewriter to produce “Gone With the Wind” and a young property developer sizes up the land in a post-hurricane New Orleans.
These characters inhabit the same imaginative space as the film crew putting together a 21st century remake of the Scarlett O’Hara/Rhett Butler classic with a plot doctored for our politically correct era.
“It’s very difficult to be a historian if you stop believing in sequences,” says one character in a line that could be an ironic comment on the company’s creative approach. Helmer Rachel Chavkin delights in picking apart old sequences and building them anew, allowing us to make fresh sense of a world crippled by information overload.
In the cross-cultural scrapbook of “Architecting,” a theme about the deep roots of racial discrimination emerges via the historical revisionism of the “Gone With the Wind” movie remake which, the producer hopes, will be made more palatable by the addition of a rose-tinted subplot about the grandfather of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
What also emerges is a theme about the cycle of construction, destruction and renewal, a pressing issue for a generation facing an uncertain future. The show links the Atlanta fire of the 1939 movie to the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and the city’s subsequent rebuilding.
Talking in the third-person, Libby King’s pragmatic architect says, “Out of sites of devastation, she imagines new beginnings,” seemingly oblivious to the cultural richness that has been swept away.
Clearly there is no shortage of ideas in “Architecting” and plenty of evidence of a company tackling the complexities of modern life with boldness, intelligence and wit. As it stands, however, the play needs streamlining. The deeper it goes into “Gone With the Wind” territory, the less clear its purpose, and we are a long way into the two-hour running time before the cultural collisions start making sense.
There are many diversions to compensate — the always compelling Almasy as Margaret Mitchell, the occasional number on acoustic guitar and a surreal game of cards propelled by an electric fan — but as it stands, there is more in this mix than can be easily digested.