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‘American Man’ – A post Obama world that should be countered…(review)

‘American Man’ – A post Obama world that should be countered…(review)

November 25 2016

New show has huge potential – not least because it is from a brilliant artist – but it isn’t clear enough in what it is ‘targeting’…

SET IN A DYSTOPIAN future world – slightly cryptically, two years into a Michelle Obama presidency following a few (unspecified years) of Trump, “American Man” is a new one-man show from artist Hetain Patel and it got its world premiere last night at Sadler’s Well, where Patel is a New Wave Associate Artist.

Performing a range of characters from the world of the internet, Patel does an impression of Obama launching his own Youtube channel.

While you get past the obvious humour, it’s hard to describe what Patel is actually trying to do with this particular scene.

With elements of dance and movement in it too, the show seems like it is all a little underdeveloped – for now.

American Man” loosely picks up where his previous show, “American Boy” left off. Though this time, as he makes clear in the preview interview with us and again in a post-show talk last night – that show was entirely derivative, based on verbatim takes from popular US drama and film.

American Man” is more about the internet in general and Youtube in particular and the words are Patel’s entirely.

In some ways, Patel talks a very good game but the show doesn’t quite match his articulacy and general insight reflected in interviews and discussions.

He said last night he wanted to centre “American Man” on race and gender.

If you have seen his previous work – see the video link on the end of the interview story – identity features large and he is really very sharp on that subject.

He rarely touches the same level here – there are moments but in between other stuff, it is a little lost.

The opening is terrific in this, but once the shows settles down, it loses its bite and only comes back fleetingly to hit you.

Now, that may not be to everyone’s tastes but the stronger points are where folks are being asked to think outside of their comfort zones.

Last night, Patel talked about how “American Boy” aimed to show the underlying sexism of much of popular American culture in its film and TV – and there were moments when the same or even heightened misogyny and racism available on the net came through “American Man” – but there wasn’t enough of it and much of it was not clear or obvious enough (for this critic, maybe).

One example was the Youtube tutorial on how to be more of an Alpha Male (and ‘pull the chicks’ obviously) – more like how to be a sexist ‘d***head’ – was well articulated but other similar skits were not as clear in their purpose.

In the end, it feels too much like a starting point and a draft that needs further exploration and energy. Making it a little longer – maybe from 60 minutes to 90 or 100 with a break – would help.

Inevitably, there would need to be more skits and deeper and longer segments and there is no harm in upping the physical elements (Patel has worked with dancers before and his association with Sadler’s Wells is designed to develop and explore that too).

It feels like a little bit of a lost opportunity – where is liberal rage?

The two Obama segments offered something, and the longer second one started well but then became muddied with complex references to ‘authenticity of the self’ (if memory serves one correctly).

But maybe it’s hoping for too much from something like “American Man” to give voice to a different kind of ‘rage’ all together.

Hetain, you’re being way too nice! (Sailesh Ram)

ACV rating:**½ (out of five).

‘American Man’, by Hetain Patel, Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis Studio, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R. 8pm, November 25.
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Written by Asian Culture Vulture