‘Americans’ brings a view from the front porch

world premiere: Play examines anger about economic downturn, but it’s not without humor

Contributing writerAugust 24, 2012 

Angry about political nonsense and the state of the economy, a hard-drinking man sits on his front porch in a gated community and yells at the people across the street.

Sounds like it could be a news story, doesn’t it?

The man in question is Derek Slaughterhouse, the main character in Carter W. Lewis’ “The Americans Across the Street,” opening this weekend at Olympia’s State Theater.

It’s no surprise that the Harlequin Productions show sounds an awful lot like a colorful version of reality. The production is a world premiere.

“I really love this play,” said Scot Whitney, Harlequin’s managing artistic director. “When we first got it, I was really shocked at how really funny it was and also how moving and important and just so timely.”

“People are just feeling really beat up by life,” he added. “What happened? How did we get here, and when is this going to get better? This addresses that feeling so beautifully.”

The economic downturn didn’t just help to inspire this play – it also helped to bring it to Harlequin. The three-person play was to premiere in May at Florida Stage, a West Palm Beach theater specializing in new works. In June 2011, the nationally recognized company closed, a victim of the economy.

Whitney and his wife, Linda, who is directing the play, heard about it from Nat Rayman, a former Harlequin employee who saw a staged reading of it while working at Florida Stage.

“He wrote us to say, ‘This is a great play. You should look at it,’” Linda Whitney said.

And the rest is tomorrow’s history.

The play is about “American anger, the fury building in our lower and middle classes, and the divisive nature of our neighborhoods,” Lewis told an interviewer with Philadelphia’s Simpatico Theatre Project.

If the story of someone railing against the 1 percent sounds depressing, though, rest assured that this play is one of those pointed-yet-heartwarming contemporary plays that stud Harlequin’s seasons.

Derek (played by Tom Sanders, one of Olympia’s better-known actors, making his Harlequin debut) isn’t just dealing with political crisis and helping himself to the scotch he keeps stored in a bar on his porch. He’s also forced to cope with his estranged sister (Ann Flannigan, familiar from the bittersweet “End Days” and “The Last Schwartz”) and teenage niece (Rheanna Murray, 17 and a senior at the Tacoma School of the Arts) who have come to stay with him after losing their condo.

“The teenage daughter, a 16-year-old girl, is a catalyst to healing this family wound in her way, although she doesn’t set out to do it,” Linda Whitney said.

“It’s very, very funny,” she added. “The dialogue is really sharp and pretty acerbic.”

And it’s even hopeful, though that may seem to some to be where the realism ends.

“By and large, it’s really hard for any single person to do much about the larger dysfunction of our political system,” Whitney said, “but we can do things about the people closest to us.

“That’s fundamentally what the play is about: You can burn a lot of internal fuel carrying on about how far off the beam America has gone, or you can look around you and apply some positive energy to the people who are trying to love you.” ‘The Americans Across the Street’

What: Harlequin Productions presents the world premiere of Carter W. Lewis’ wild comedy about a prize-winning author who spends his days on his porch, railing against the state of the nation.

When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, plus Aug. 29-Sept. 1 and Sept. 6-8 and 13-15; matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday plus Sept. 2 and 9

Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

Tickets: $31 general admission, $28 for military and seniors, $20 for students. Discounted rush tickets are available a half-hour prior to curtain. For the Aug. 29 performance, pay what you can.

More information: 360-786-0151 or harlequinproductions.org

Talk-back: Lewis will be on hand to talk about the play after tonight’s performance.

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