With the national debate about same-sex marriage raging throughout America, the current offering of the Renaissance Theaterworks, “American Fiesta,” is particularly timely.
Steven, played by Milwaukee icon John McGivern, is a fiftysomething gay marketing mastermind who obsessively collects Fiestaware, the multi-colored Depression Era crockery. He and his partner Leon are planning a Canadian marriage ceremony, much to the chagrin and consternation of his Oklahoma parents: “If you didn’t go to Canada … if you didn’t have a ceremony, maybe you’d have fewer enemies!” Steven’s clueless but loving mother tells him.
The plot abounds with ironies: Fiestaware was produced in the 1930s as ultra-cheap dishware for working-class families, yet today vintage pieces sell for hundreds of dollars; Steven grew up in conservative rural Oklahoma, but lives as an adult in Austin, Texas, a liberal island in the midst of redneck Texas culture; pristine mint condition Fiestaware is wildly collectible, but it is the chipped, well-worn pieces that tell the stories of all the families the dishes have passed through.
This entertaining, semi-autobiographical play by Steven Tomlinson won the American Theatre Critics Association’s 2006 Osborn Award for best play by an emerging playwright. The script presents an intriguing nesting of metaphor within metaphor within metaphor.
Steven preserves, protects and displays the Fiestaware, while Leon prefers to serve food in it – a potent metaphor for making compromises within a relationship. “Some people learn how to collect things, and some people learn how to share,” Steven confides to his audience. “We’re lucky when these people marry these people!”
The red and blue colors of classic Fiestaware are symbolic as well of the national political divide. In discussing the uranium and potentially radioactive base of the antique Fiestaware’s red glaze, Steven quips that it might really be a conspiracy: The Fiestaware is produced by the working class red states and sold to affluent and artsy collectors of the blue states in order to poison them! In fact, the diversity of the Fiesta colors represents nothing short of the diversity of American society itself.
Mounting a one-man show such as “American Fiesta” is a daunting task. The amount of memorization alone is intimidating. But McGivern, enriched by the strong direction of Jenny Wanasek, pulls it off, giving us the voices of some 20 characters. McGivern’s second performance of the show was a little tentative, but I can only imagine that in continued performances the show will be tighter and more seamless.
The motion graphics design of Tim Chiappetta, the scenic design of Steve Barnes and the lighting design and video integration of Jason Fassl are brilliant touches: animated projections on the rear wall of the set graphically accent the color motifs of the show: the Fiestaware itself, the US political map, the color coded parts of the brain, and even the colors of the Homeland Security alert codes.
Of course, the show itself is social commentary, but it is loving, non-militant and very human commentary. Ultimately, the Fiestaware becomes a metaphor for having a meal together, for co-existence and respect on the personal, family and social levels.
After all, as Steven tells us: That’s the magic of Fiesta. The colors always go together.