Literature 8-6-2006

Fringe Shorts: The Unbearable Lightness of Being American

Kim Surkan appreciates the incisive wit of the Ministry of Cultural Warfare. It's at Intermedia Arts at 2822 Lyndale Ave, Sunday, 8/6, at 1 PM, Tuesday, 8/8, 8:30 PM, Thursday, 8/10, 7 PM, and Saturday, 8/12, 8:30 pm.


The Ministry of Cultural Warfare is at it again – back at Intermedia Arts this year, they’ve launched another scathing and hilarious critique of American politics and culture in The Unbearable Lightness of Being American. Their signature combination of Matthew Foster’s videography and live scenes featuring actors Leigha Horton and Nathan Surprenant is lively, funny, and well-paced, making this an enjoyable hour of theater.

Foster’s video, “A Brief History of the United States” pulls no punches in its reminder to viewers that ours is a country obsessed with war, from the initial land grab on this continent to the most recent military interventions abroad. In a series of snapshots of figures and events throughout the years, the short film succeeds in creating a wry, not-so-flattering portrait of the trajectory of American politics over the last two centuries. It’s the version you won’t see in any high-school history textbook.

The remaining ten sketches poke fun at everything: the pompous and detached attitudes of wealthy art collectors, Christian real estate salesmen, the South, Homeland Security, celebrity obsession and the gay fascination with divas, cat ladies, and self-help books. Horton and Surprenant have a comfortable rapport that makes them fun to watch.

The final scene, “Stanzas We Don’t Sing,” is a shift from the parodic lampooning of American culture. Dan Sarka accompanies Horton on guitar as she delivers a monologue interspersed with familiar patriotic songs – but with all new lyrics. Intended as a reclamation of the principles of a country gone awry, the sentiment is commendable but it takes things abruptly in a new direction with a radical shift in tone. That makes for a weak ending to an otherwise witty and deliciously biting show.