Set in a not-so-distant future, where puritanical values and ahem Republicans, have taken over the United States, The Travels paints a bleak portrait to work as both cautionary tale and eerie satire. The America of the show is a place where “goodness” is cherished and the strange feelings caused by bidets equals the “wrongness” so feared by the authoritarian system. Citizens are woken up each day by the ominous television broadcasts of a green faced figure who keeps them updated about the going ons in the country, while reminding them of the perils of anything coming from outside the country.
The system’s spokesman is Mr. Travel (J. Anthony Crane), often deemed “the most perfect person in the US of A” by his fellow citizens. Mr. Travel hosts a daily show in which he goes to exotic lands like Paris where he shows people why America is the only safe place in the world. These shows are obviously staged (the show does an ingenious use of a camera and miniature props) but they serve to prove how brainwashed the population has become, in that they fail to recognize what’s true from what isn’t anymore.
Things take a dark turn when Mr. Travel’s daughter Teeny (the brilliant Holland Mariah Grossman) begins to question why she must follow the system’s ridiculous rules and when she accidentally finds a copy of an E.E. Cummings book, her entire world turns upside down. Will she be the one to defeat the system? What will this mean for her dad and her mother (a sublime Luba Mason)?
This smart play written by Aaron Ricciardi features songs by Ricciardi and Kelly Hoppenjans which aren’t musical numbers in the usual sense, but serve as interludes for meditation (a song titled "Constance Pilgrim" encompasses xenophobia in America with an almost scary precision). Efficiently directed by Travis Greisler, The Travels is quite a pleasant surprise, a political show with a conscience that forgoes didacticism in favor of dark humor. It will make you hurt from laughter, until you realize that behind its jokes lies the scary possibility of prescience.
The Travels is playing as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. For more on NYMF productions, click here.
Through July 26 at Ford Foundation Studio Theatre