New York's TEAM (Theater of the Emerging American Moment), directed by Rachel Chavkin, bring an incredible combination of energy and talent to their plays, not only to entertain, but with a determination that their shows have something to say. This piece, a presentation of P.S. 122's Coil Festival, is about American capitalism and the great recession.  It is receiving its New York premiere, after three years of collaboration and a successful European run, where it won a 2011 Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival.  I spoke with Chavkin.

 

Hi Rachel.  You and the TEAM have a trademark of making your pieces out of an extended workshop and research process.  And here you started in August, 2008, even before the financial crisis hit.

 It was born out of our earlier show, Architecting, for which we read Naomi Klein's book, The Shock Doctrine, and that book talks about this idea of "Disaster Capitalism"; and that led me to ask the TEAM how they defined "American capitalism," specifically.  That was our core starting point.  Another core came from Jake Margolin, one of our co-members.  He had become obsessed with westerns; not just movies, but western style pulp fiction, like Zane Grey and Louis Lamour.  So that was the other starting nugget.

And then the financial crisis happened.  Lehman Brothers fell; and we realized that we couldn't make a documentary.  I don't think the TEAM ever would have made a documentary play, regardless.  But we knew we couldn't do that for this play, because there were so many radio and TV programs and books already explaining the crisis.

Then, sometime in the spring of 2009, Jake brought up Las Vegas, and the decision was made to look at Las Vegas, which was the fastest growing city in America at the time of the millennium, but it had been ravaged by the financial crisis.  I became fixated on going to Las Vegas.  In June, 2010, we moved there for a month.  It was extraordinary.  We would do what I called "a field trip" every morning there.

What was that like?

We went to a 60-year-old pig farm in North Vegas, where the mobsters allegedly fed their victims to the pigs. Now this pig farm is in a controversy because developers built new homes 30 feet from the sites, assuming they could buy out the pig farm, but the pig farm didn't sell out.  We visited this development in 105 degree heat.  There are brand-new, way-too-large gated community houses that stand 30 feet from a pig farm.  That's sort of what we found again and again on our filed trips.

The one other piece of background is that I read a book, The Island at The Center of the World by historian Russell Shorto.  It's about the New Amsterdam colony and the Dutch settling of America.  It made us realize that many of the roots we associate with modern America capitalism are, in fact, from the Dutch founding colonies, and not the British. The Dutch were here to make money, and the New Netherlands were a commercial colony.

And the show we're going to see?

The show is constructed of two interweaving love stories.  One is this sort of epic romance saga, these two 14-year-old Dutch kids, Catalina and Joris.  They're based on the Dutch Adam and Eve.  We've stolen their names and created a story about them.  These two kids come to New Amsterdam in 1624, and then you watch something unlock in their DNA; and they decide to stay, and head west, and that gains them immortality; they are capitalist gods racing across the country.

The second story is a real intimate one, of a cocktail waitress, Joan, who has lost her job during the financial crisis in Las Vegas.  What you come to realize is that's she works for the modern-day Catalina and Joris, who are real estate tycoons in Las Vegas.  She falls in love with a man living out on the desert in his family home, and he's lost his home to the city of Las Vegas for his well water, and he invites Joan to move with him to Montana.

These are the two stories that are told, and held together, by the incredibly beautiful musical score written by Heather Christian, who also plays Miss Atomic, a narrator.  Her character was inspired by the 1950 beauty pageants in Las Vegas, that they held to celebrate the A-bomb. On one of our field trips we went to the Atomic Testing Museum; they were detonating atomic bombs 60 miles north of the city.

The Connelly Theater, 220 E. 4th St., (212) 352-3101. Jan 8-29. $25/$20.