Stephen Sewell should stick to writing. He is one of Australia’s finest, and though the desire for scribes to direct their own scripts is strong, most often it should be resisted. Then again, everyone has to start somewhere, and if Sewell really wants to strike out as a director, the co-production season at Griffin Stablemates is a good place to practice. Pity, though, that he chose to practice on “The United States of Nothing,” a sound script crying out for another draft and a more experienced director.
Play picks up themes from Sewell’s acclaimed “Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America.” In that earlier work, a U.S. citizen feared he was losing his mind in the post-9/11 panic and nationalistic surge. Here, a white family seeks refuge at a sports arena as a hurricane bears down on their city.
The site is overrun by panic that swiftly infects this frightened foursome. But as staged here, there’s too much senseless screaming, and the characters are straight out of TV.
Roy Billing’s Dad is like the combat guy from “Lost,” complete with khaki artillery jacket; Katrina Foster’s Mom is a stupid version of Marcia Cross’ desperate housewife; Amelia Cormack’s Ashley is modeled on Kelly Osbourne; and Kristian Schmid’s Randy is just a little bit Bart Simpson.
Sewell’s play articulates how simplistically Australia’s arts intelligentsia views the U.S. populace — the kids are slackers, the parents are hicks and they’re all dumb.
While there are too many long-winded soliloquies, there are some funny scenes as well, such as when Mom discovers illicit substances of increasing strength stashed about her daughter’s body.
As dad sets a tripwire around their claimed plot of the arena’s midfield, it becomes apparent this family is an example of extreme capitalist individualism, though some will argue Sewell’s vision isn’t extreme at all. At one point Dad laments that everyone spends too much time thinking about everyone else, when they should be worrying about themselves.
Mom: “We’re a caring family that only wants the rest of the world to live exactly the same way we do.”
The big picture comes in for a shellacking, too. Sewell has joined the chorus of those asking how the U.S. can possibly establish peace in the Muslim world if it can’t even evacuate its own from a storm. If only he’d managed to answer that question.