“Cinemamerica” is the first half of Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s “Pursuit of Happiness” project, a two-part exploration of the American Dream that has been in development for the past four years. (Part two, “Lifeliberty,” opens Nov. 12.) Given such a generous incubation period and Jeune Lune’s track record on other collaborative epics, it’s a bit mystifying to watch the company’s efforts unravel so completely this time out. The play promises much but delivers little.
The first scene of “Cinemamerica” features a screenwriter groping for a story idea, and the play itself spends the next two and a half hours doing precisely the same thing. Though hardly compelling or cohesive, the plays suggests that America’s “idea” (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) has been bastardized and cheapened in much the way Hollywood trivializes whatever it touches.
Having fashioned this simplistic lens through which to view the American experiment, the company is unable to avoid the same artistic crimes it satirizes. Although the fictional screenwriter has no idea for a script, a director is hired and casting commences. Even after shooting begins, no one has a clue what the story is going to be.
The hapless moviemakers settle for a series of absurd free associations: Two young lovers crash their car in the middle of the desert, the Statue of Liberty crawls out from the wreckage holding her head in her hands, Thomas Jefferson taps out the Declaration of Independence on a laptop computer. Pointless songs and gratuitous dance sequences are interspersed throughout, and the movie gets an Academy Award.
With no guiding principle behind the nonsense or any insight into the American character, “Cinemamerica” emerges as crass, cynical, witless and ultimately arrogant in its implication that it is superior to Hollywood. When the movie director laments, “We produce crap and sell it to the world,” he’s hitting uncomfortably close to home.