'American Hero': American pie on Italian at Williamstown Theatre Festival


WILLIAMSTOWN -- The American dream is not going well for Bob, an Egyptian doctor, maybe, who has fled his native country to start all over again here.

When first we see him in Bess Wohl's erratic dark comedy, "American Hero" at Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage, he is hiring staff and then training them for the Subwaylike franchise he is about to open.

Sheri (Erin Wilhelmi) is a spectrallike figure -- thin, pale,. blond-- who already works a night shift at a taco franchise in the local mall.

Ted (James Waterston) is a recently downsized Bank of America employee with an upsized mortgage, a wife and kids, and a pathological roving eye.

Jamie (Ari Graynor) is a dishy, tough, wisecracking blond -- a single mother of three locked in a bitter custody dispute.

When Bob (Omar Newally) mysteriously disappears, the ragtag crew is faced with having to keep the shop open -- a mandate from Corporate -- despite the fact that supplies are dwindling. And so they rise to an occasion, American heroes, in a sense, determined to survive and thrive in the face of Catch-22 corporate polciies and rules aimed at preserving the profit margin at a cost of collateral human damage.

Unlike her far more articulate and focused "Touch(ed)," produced last season, also on WTF's Nikos Stage, Wohl's writing swings more wildly here; sometimes hitting paydirt; at other times flying way off target, wearing heart on sleeve all the way.

Whatever the play's shortcomings, the production, under Leigh Silverman's direction, is nicely acted, beginning with Metwally's gallery of characters, ranging from the hapless, mysterious Bob to, at the end, the man from Corporate who is himself caught in the absurd situation of having to disenfranchise employees whose resourceful American sense of ingenuity, know-how and improvisation works not only to their advantage but to the company's as well.

Waterston's astutely shaped Ted is caught between his self-delusional image of the ideal husband and provider on the one hand and self-justifying womanizer on the other.

Wilhelmi's finely tuend Sheri proves more resilient and resourceful than she at first appears and Graynor goes for broke in a bold depiction of a desperate woman who, like her fellow employees, comes into her own, even if the play that contains her doesn't.

AMERICAN HERO by Bess Wohl. Directed by Leigh Silverman; scenic design, Timothy R. Mackabee; costume design, Clint Ramos; lighting design, Jennifer Schriever; sound design, Jill BC DuBoff.

Through July 7. Eves.: Tue.-Thu. 7:30; Fri., Sat. 8. Mats.: Thu. 4; Sat. 3:30; Sun. 2. 

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Nikos Stage, '62 Center for Theatre and Dance, 1000 Main St., Williamstown. 

Tickets: $50.

(413) 597-3400; wtfestival.org.

1 hour 43 minutes


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