SITI Company’s “Under Construction” Fulfills its Title

What makes American culture American? This is a theme that runs through many of the SITI Company’s theater productions, and Under Construction—written by frequent collaborator Charles Mee—overtly stages this question. Not surprisingly, a less-than-clear answer is stated within the first minutes: it is “under construction.”

Structured as a montage of scenes inspired by painter Norman Rockwell and installation artist Jason Rhoades, Under Construction hits a lot of familiar touchstones. It moves briskly from the ever-popular 1950s nuclear family to the 1970s hippie artist to an angst-ridden blogger of the just-closed noughties decade, all with a sense of affectionate Americana.  It spends a fair amount of time on the distinctly American combination of sexual repression and frankness, juxtaposing 1950s dating do’s and don’ts with lesbian smut from the same period, along with a healthy dose of feminism, plus a couple of musical numbers for good measure.

Reminiscent of Mee’s Fetes de la Nuit, a glossy collection of American stereotypes of Paris, Under Construction has the advantage of being American stereotypes of America. It’s all smoothly done, definitely entertaining, and sustained by solid performances across the board. But conceptually, the production lacks the punch of two recent productions by theater companies who are also preoccupied with the question of American culture as it’s refracted through theater: Radiohole’s meta-drama, Whatever Heaven Allows, and National Theater of the United States of America’s sweeping Chautauqua. In comparison, Under Construction is a little pat and a little short on substance.

Under Construction is at Dance Theater Workshop thru May 7.

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