It’s upstate New York, 1979, post-Vietnam. Set in the Latowski family’s front kitchen-come-bar, Tom Willis’ Electric Nebraska consumes the greying myth of the ‘American Dream’ with such dexterity you’d be forgiven for thinking it had been written by Mr Miller himself.
Alongside smatterings of Donnie Brasco and his ‘fuggedaboutit’ attitude, cold smokes and brassy ‘New Yawk’ tenors create an authentic depiction of a steel-milling town whose core identity is disintegrating against the threat of The City.
Whilst the melancholic humour of Willis’ writing is undoubtedly the most highly commended aspect of the production, the six-strong cast are just as monumental to this production’s success. It would not be tough for the play to become all about Joe: just a knuckle-headed ‘dummy’ with a disturbingly thuggish love of baseball, but by creating a double-act with Aaron Tej’s hilariously stand-out Sam Kovic against the tomboyish charm of Lou Knapp’s Dianna, together the three act as foils to each other, forging an ensemble in which the sensitivities of all of Willis’ characters are drawn into light.
“The set’s static backdrop illuminates the futility of trying to escape the hardships of that family’s current situation”
Rachel Angeli’s Abigail is intelligent and subtle. Through attentive glances and un-mawkish delivery, she asserts the strident bravado of a woman who guides her family in times when otherwise there is chaos. It is only at the moment in which her husband asks her to dance and she modestly declines, that we see the underlying vulnerability of a woman who is desperately trying to hold her beloved family together. Added to Natalia Gonzalez’ Jeannie, the cast’s heightened sense of togetherness creates a stark contrast against Nick Gill’s Cus: a weasel-like trickster who comes from The City to cause these good people to make bad choices. Really, a superb cast.
That being said, I have only really one note for thought. At times the soundscape didn’t necessarily correlate with the narrative of each individual scene, and the offstage bang of Joe’s single gunshot did leave me a little baffled as to why his T-shirt looked like he’d just been involved in a poster-paint fight out the back. Nonetheless the play’s overall tone of production was suitably absorbing. Teamed with Joe’s humorous but no less gloomy aside and nod to ‘the elsewhere’ – “Mike’s never here anyway” – the set’s static backdrop illuminates the futility of trying to escape the hardships of that family’s current situation. The bar is the kitchen. The kitchen is the bar. Nobody moves. It’s how The Dream works in reality. The vibrant charge of Willis’ writing against the stagnancy of the set undercuts the overwhelming haze and paling sadness of that American family’s threatened existence.