The Walk Across America For Mother Earth

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Jul 14, 2014
(Clockwise from left) Jack Reibstein, Bobby Allen, Louis Loftus, Kevin Connor  in "The Walk Across America for Mother Earth"
(Clockwise from left) Jack Reibstein, Bobby Allen, Louis Loftus, Kevin Connor in "The Walk Across America for Mother Earth"  (Source:Julie Fox)

Personally, I have always been a little skeptical about "movements" centered around activists who seemed to be thinking about fashion rather than problems and how to solve them. Maybe it's a matter of the images the media chooses to show us, but when I see wild hairstyles and ripped up / punked out / hippie couture clothing I figure what I'm seeing is simply the flipside of the more "respectable" fashions -- the close-cropped hair, expensive aviator sunglasses, and stylishly cut suits that cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. When out culture clashes boil down to throngs of kids wearing rags plucked from Salvation Army bins coming up against cops in the gleaming carapaces of their sexily militaristic riot gear, with one-per-centers lurking in the aerie somewhere and clucking, their bowties neatly pressed, I can't help it: I roll my eyes and look elsewhere for optimism.

Taylor Mac's new musical, "The Walk Across America for Mother Earth," keeps its eyes open when it comes the to self-conscious showmanship of such brands of activism, even while indulging in it. "The Walk Across America" is something like a latter-day "Hair," minus draft cards and the specter of Vietnam. Instead, this play centers on a group of kids -- many of them queer -- on a cross-country march to Nevada, where they intend to invade a bowling alley in hopes of putting a halt to nuclear testing in the desert and forcing the government to return the land -- radioactive fallout and all, evidently -- to the Native American tribe from which it was snatched after having been granted them as a living space. (One marcher terms this conduct the act of "government givers.")

The music that punctuates the show is nothing akin to (nor as good as) the music from "Hair," but there are a few folksy tunes. More often, there's banging and railing in a vaguely musical manner, as a troupe of young people with painted faces, tattoos of stereotypical American Indians, and wardrobes ranging from the shredded to the improbably elaborate endure heat, cars, boredom, internal dissent, and in a couple of cases insanity and cancer.

Juliet Roll and Bobby Allen in "The Walk Across America for Mother Earth"  (Source:Julie Fox)

The cancer is the burden borne by a forceful lesbian named Marsha, who browbeats everyone with the fact (and likely fatality) of her disease in order to squelch dissent and force some illusion of consensus. (She also drinks her own urine as a form of therapy.) Around her roil the others: King Arthur (Robert Allan), a Vietnam vet who asserts male dominance and uses it as a seduction tool and, possibly, a justification for rape; Rainbow Carl (Tom Mezger), a Belgian who has come to America in a shredded leather jacket held together by dozens of safety pins in order to escape the grind of commitment and lose himself in the romance of the American West; Greeter (Louis Loftus), a Tennessee gay boy / transsexual prostitute whose minimal costuming reminds one of Dr. Frank-N-Furter; Kelly (Kevin Paquette), a young and inexperienced gay man; Nick (Ezra Dulit-Greenberg), a kid with serious mental health issues who hounds Kelly with anger over a long past and probably imaginary wrong; Angie (Talia Curtain), who is Marsha's lover (and Kelly's best friend, to Marcia's jealous rage); and Flower (Juliet Roll), a young woman who is such a misfits that she's an outsider even among outcasts. (Linda Baird, Jack Reibstein, and Marisa Lazar round out the cast in a variety of roles including a creek and, er, "The Grass.")

There is some clever staging, but overall the play suffers from a lack of coherence and performances that are too loud, too brusque, and too unfocused. (Some audience members may find the, shall we say, earthier elements of the play offensive, if not disgusting.)

That said, there are some truly marvelous moments here, especially in a sequence in which Angie is writing a letter describing the group's day to day activities. In a charming sequence that dials down the volume and finds the humanity in the group and their off-kilter mission, we witness vignettes that speak to youthful dreams and hopes sprung from the purest of intentions -- even if everything about the way the group interacts with the practical world is either corrupt or misguided. It's a shame more of the play couldn't enjoy the kind of narrative grace and light touch Mac and director Christopher Annas-Lee bring to that montage. Thank god this is at Club Oberon, where you can get a drink -- you'll need one to really get into the mangy spirit of this raw, forceful, sometimes poignant, and somewhat despairing work.

In the end, this is a ragtag band that crosses the breadth of the United States only to get nowhere. That feels deliberate in Mac's part: It seems sure thing that he is satirizing the very people he's portraying, sometimes with deep sympathy, sometimes with what feels like scorn, and often with great (if not always on-target) humor.

"The Walk Across America for Mother Earth" runs at Club Oberon, in Harvard Square, through July 27. For tickets and more information, please go to americanrepertorytheater.org/oberon

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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