Erin Shea Brady is a contributing writer and critic at PerformInk and Newcity Stage. Directing credits include: Everybody (Brown Paper Box Co.) and Cabaret, Annapurna (staged reading) and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (No Stakes Theater Project). Erin has assistant directed and dramaturged productions at the Goodman, Jackalope, TimeLine, A Red Orchid, Northlight, and Remy Bumppo. Erin is a graduate of the directing program at Columbia College Chicago, the internship program at Steppenwolf, Jackalope's inaugural Playwright's Lab, and participated in the Goodman's Criticism in a Changing America bootcamp. Erin is a company member with Brown Paper Box Co. and is currently pursuing her MSW at Loyola.
Pictured (l-r): Annie Prichard, Chris Daley and Saraí Rodriguez. Photo by Ian McLaren.
By Erin Shea Brady
Set in a sandwich franchise in a local mall, Bess Wohl’s AMERICAN HERO features three sandwich makers from different walks of life who find themselves abandoned by corporate and desperately trying to keep the doors open. As they fight to hold onto their job, the three begin to bond in a twisted exploration of the American dream.
While the experience lives up to the company’s mission to immerse the audience in the world of the play — the design, Jeffrey Kmeic’s set in particular, is on point — it misses the boat on inspiring intellectual curiosity. Much of the conversation is laid out for us: the tension between corporate and execution in the food industry, the inability to support a family on minimum wage. Telling these stories is necessary to understanding the day-to-day of the working class, but in this case, I found myself wondering what I was meant to walk away with. Tonally, I wasn’t sure of the aim.
That being said, there is something hopeful that emerges towards the end: that if we follow our inspiration we will find our worth, that a challenge can turn into an opportunity. Saraí Rodriguez as eighteen-year-old Sheri is extremely endearing. Her arc is clear and strong, and she does a lot to ground the play. I was with her start to finish.The comedy plays well, especially early on. Brian McKnight, in his many roles, has good timing and is fun to watch.
However, the script itself is limited, and doesn’t earn the full 90 minutes. What would have been an excellent sketch or short play feels thin and drawn out. Though Cody Estle’s direction is specific and clear, I wanted more depth from the writing — in particular, the relationship between Jamie (Annie Prichard) and Ted (Chris Daley). Prichard is compelling to watch and her performance has a lot of heart, but the romantic relationship feels contrived.
Daley’s Ted, let go from his corporate job for sexual harassment allegations, is trying to find his way as the MVP of the sandwich world. Here we see a man who is seemingly unable to control his sexual impulses. Of course, there’s comedy in it, when he and Prichard’s Jamie are left alone and she tempts him to cheat on his wife, but the narrative is problematic, and I couldn’t tell if his misogyny was being called out or excused.
AMERICAN HERO is entertaining, and at times endearing. It’s worth seeing for Saraí Rodriguez’ strength and charm — but as a whole, I was underwhelmed.
AMERICAN HERO runs through June 3rd. For more information visit firstfloortheater.com.