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Under Construction: Deconstructing Middle America

Under Construction: Deconstructing Middle America

Gabrielle DeCristofaro • October 3, 2017 • Art • 

“Under Construction” is as American as it gets. A display of different vignettes of American life, as well as the poetry of some of America’s most notable Beat poets, this play invites you into the lives of the artists.

Allen Ginsberg (Gabriela Petrov)
Photo by William Dibble

Written by Charles Mee, directed by Naropa Alumna Meridith C. Grundei, and produced by the Naropa MFA Theatre: Contemporary Performance Program second year ensemble, “Under Construction” is being performed at Naropa University’s Nalanda Campus from Sept. 30-Oct. 8.

Mee’s play premiered as part of the 33rd Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 2009. With an eight-member ensemble cast for the Naropa production, we are given a broad and inclusive view of America through the eyes of well-known artists, and representatives of different classes and lifestyles.

We begin the performance with an impressive use of the lobby, as four construction-worker-tour-guides lead us into the lives and personal spaces of four poets: William S. Burroughs (Rebecca Buckley), Anne Waldman (Landin Melendez), Allen Ginsberg (Gabriela Petrov), and Charles Bukowski (Madelyn Rose Robinson). Each cast member fully embodies the poet they portray, putting us both in their minds, and in mid-20th-century New York City.

A first date with Landin Melendez, Chie Saito and Madelyn Rose Robinson
Photo by William Dibble

Once the actors and the audience members reconvene, everyone is directed into the theater, where the remainder of the performance continues. We are presented with different representations of American life, from the home, to first dates, to going to war, to the threat of nuclear war, all reminiscent of 1950s America. Since each piece is rather short, and we quickly move onto the next, the actors are allowed to fully show off their wide range of acting and musical abilities.

Playwright Charles Mee describes this script as being inspired by Saturday Evening Post covers from the 1950s that were painted by Norman Rockwell, and he explains the collection of scenes as “a collage… from America, both from then and today.”

William S. Burroughs (Rebecca Buckley)
Photo by William Dibble

This lends itself to a less wholesome interpretation of Rockwell’s works, and also to Mee’s own interpretation of the pieces.

Cast member, K. Woodzick, says that director Meridith C. Grundei chose the piece because it allows for flexible casting options, as this is a class of eight women and one genderqueer actor (Woodzick).

“[T]his piece is a love letter to, and also a critical dialogue about, what it means to be an American,” Woodzick says. “Producing it in 2017 with a liberal-leaning cast comprised of actors of color, women, queer and trans actors feels very relevant and rich.”

Additionally, Woodzick has provided the performance with a memorial flag from their great-aunt Helen’s funeral.

“Helen served as a transport sergeant in the Marines during World War II, and her singing was her favorite thing in the world,” Woodzick says. “I’d like to think she’s watching ‘Under Construction’ from afar and smiling.”

Kristin Marie Stetler and Landin Melendez perform Bing Crosby’s “Dear Hearts and Gentle People”
Photo by William Dibble

This rendition of “Under Construction” is at times ironic, but always engaging. With an appropriate balance of humor and seriousness, some really special moments are allowed to unfold. I highly recommend taking a night out to see this production.

“This is a piece that offers more questions than answers, and I hope you will continue the conversation with each other after the show,” Meridith Grundei invites.

This performance runs from Sept. 29-Oct. 8, and each performance is limited to 30 audience members, so get your tickets now!

Tickets for Under Construction

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