Hand2Mouth's Repeat After Me doesn't need any more good press from me—they already got more column inches than any other theater company in town when I wrote a feature article about them a few weeks ago ["We Like American Music," Feature, April 12]. When I wrote the article, though, I'd only seen one rehearsal of the show, and I couldn't resist the chance to see the production in its current incarnation.
And damn, am I glad I went. Repeat After Me has come a long way since rehearsals, and it more than exceeded my considerable expectations.
It's hard to explain Repeat After Me in a way that does it justice. The show is a fast-paced, high-energy exploration of American identity—of both sides of the coin, the ugly and the great.
The set is designed to resemble a dancefloor, with dressing rooms to the sides and a DJ booth in back where DJ Brokenwindow orchestrates the sound. The seven talented ensemble members take turns at the mic, singing popular American songs of the past 100 years, from the familiar (Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue") to the esoteric (the 1962 country hit "Don't Go Near the Indians"). DJ Brokenwindow guides the show along, introducing the ensemble to the audience and providing the occasional bit of commentary and comic relief.
The use of popular music as a manipulative rhetorical device is pure genius. Everyone loves songs, right? Hand2Mouth manages to tap equally into the sentimental and nostalgic (think "Night Moves," or Neil Diamond's "America") and the jingoistic and frightening ("Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition"). They wisely avoid picking sides, however. There is a sense that this ensemble has spent months wrestling with the ambiguity of actually being an American, with all the good and bad that implies, and the result is remarkable: You'll hear songs you know, and think about them in ways you never have.
It's a thoughtful production, characterized by a refreshing lack of self-indulgence; but it's a fun show, too, and scary, and sexy, and sentimental. Hand2Mouth will be presenting it again at this fall's Time-Based Arts Festival, but that's no excuse for not seeing it now—this is not a show to miss.