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Mission Drift

Tuesday 26th February / posted by Adam Trainer

Resist though I might, a good musical will always have me shedding a few tears, and Mission Drift is certainly no exception. Edgy and affecting, this offering from US company the TEAM is showing as part of the 2013 Perth Festival at the State Theatre Centre until March 2.

Mission Drift weaves together interlocking historical and fictional stories about Las Vegas. Joan (Amber Gray) and Chris’s (Ian Lassiter) story is one of nostalgia in the post-GFC Las Vegas where casino construction has ground to a halt and streets are lined with foreclosed houses, while the story of 400 years of European migration to and through the USA is told via the immortal young Dutch couple Joris (Bryce Gill) and Catalina (Stephanie Wright Thompson). Both stories capture the struggle between wanting to stay in one place and feeling an irrepressible need to keep exploring. The performance from all cast members is exceptional, and I continue to be surprised at the thought that such an elaborate world was created by such a small cast.

Significant moments in the play are marked by beautiful soul-inspired songs composed by Heather Christian, who plays a glamorous black grand piano and is often accompanied by the cast and a small live band. I found the (necessary) subtitles during the songs a little jarring at first, but fortunately my appreciation for Christian’s unique and haunting voice won out over my desire for articulation. The strongest moments in the production are those where song, story and movement collide.

Mission Drift is clearly a piece devised by a capable team (no puns intended) of performers. The program states that the company uses a democratic process that includes improvisation, which probably accounts for the fantastic combination of epic storytelling with surprising moments such as Gray wearing a lizard mask whilst performing an eerie Elvis-like dance.

However for a production delivering to such high standards, the set is dissatisfying. It is (presumably) intended to look like the set of an amateur production, complete with fake rocks and palm trees. And though the cheap 80s decor symbolically contributes to a sense of fading wealth, generally the set hinders rather than supports the action: for example a brief moment of Elvis projected onto venetian blinds doesn’t make up for the numerous times the actors had to awkwardly negotiate them. My chief criticism is that the set didn’t seem adequately designed for a space as wide as the Heath Ledger Theatre, creating sightline problems for large portions of the audience.

Set design criticisms aside, this is a memorable, interesting and exciting production. It also sits well as a piece in an international arts festival: for while Australian audiences are very familiar with American stories through the media, Mission Drift captures and communicates a profoundly American zeitgeist.

Michelle Trainer

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