Theatre preview: Mission Drift @ Traverse, Edinburgh

Published by THE METRO

At university, I used to really look forward to my American History classes. The professor who gave the lectures was a dour-faced and bitter man much of the time, but he would suddenly burst into life while telling us about Abraham Lincoln or Watergate, with wide eyes and manic gestures.

It seems that a similar enthusiasm grips Theatre of the Emerging American Movement (TEAM) whenever it too tries to acquaint us with America’s past, on a different stage.

The New York-based theatre company is known for exploring aspects of the American self by revisiting some of the country’s historical and cultural cornerstones through a framework of quirky and often surreal plots.

A woman who swallowed a television began to channel the personality of former President Richard Nixon in one of its previous Fringe performances. In another, aliens grew in cornfields, New Yorkers fell from the sky and the dead Kennedys came for dinner.

However, TEAM seems to have toned things down a little this year – not that it needed to, boasting three Fringe First awards – with an ambitious work of cohesion and purpose.

This new foray watches a young couple wandering east to west across America over a period of 400 years, in the juxtaposed settings of pre-Revolution New Amsterdam – the city that welcomed the first commercially-optimistic entrepreneurs – and contemporary Las Vegas – the one recovering painfully slowly from the housing crash.

The manner in which Mission Drift – a fiscal term – deconstructs American capitalism, is both avant-garde enough to retain the fans of its creators’ past offerings and sufficiently lucid to open itself up to a much wider audience.

Allegedly, Oscar Wilde once quipped that America is the first country to have gone from barbarism to decadence without the usual intervening period of civilisation. Well, if this highly sensitive piece doesn’t render that statement over-simplified, my former American History professor certainly would.