When you arrive in Red Hook for Nothin’s Gonna Change My World, an intriguing immersive performance written and directed by Mia Rovegno, you might feel like you’ve traveled worlds, not just crossed the East River by water taxi. A certain sense of wandering and disorientation suits this piece, a series of site-specific vignettes that has audiences roaming the United States from coast to coast and that fancies itself a “meditation on the dislocated and relocated.”
The talented 15-person ensemble shepherds audiences between six performance spaces scattered throughout the rustic Waterfront Museum and Red Hook’s charming waterfront. As the show journeys through Arizona, Kansas, and Queens, audience members’ senses become increasingly stimulated by an outdoor picnic, original music, and a stunning view of the sunset. Besides following the cast to regroup in new locations, guests seem deterred from further participation; though billed as an immersive experience, Nothin’s Gonna Change My World seems heavier on presentation than interaction.
As an immersive tactic, the constant uprooting of the audience tends to scatter the show’s tone and disrupt our emotional investment in the characters. Alternating between hyper-physicalized bits and unhurried realism, the production’s mix of styles is more ambitious than affecting. Characters are rarely recycled for more than one scene, so to make up for our brief acquaintance with them, the vignettes feel overstuffed with content. Thankfully, transitions are soothed by the airy folk jams of Alaina Ferris and Matt Schlatter. When everyone sings, the evening is buoyed by unity, with some songs recalling anthems of togetherness from Woodstock.
Perhaps Nothin’s Gonna Change My World’s episodic form means to suggest America’s vastness; from the highway-striped heartland to the edges of urbanity, each self-contained scene aims to localize the dreams and doldrums any American could harbor. Rovegno’s quest for “that mythological place called home” concerns itself with the abstract longing to belong. Fittingly, the show enjoys a backdrop of the Statue of Liberty—an emblem for generations of immigrants chasing the hope of self-determination. In a moment of sweet intimacy between cast and crowd, Modesto Flako Jimenez (a lively performer) dishes up tasty Dominican pastelitos to share. Originally from Spain, these savory pastries were brought to the U.S. by immigrants from Latin America. A culinary souvenir of migration, Jimenez’s snack reminds me that nearly nothing in America has a single origin story.
The play triumphs in sensitive interactions, like in Monique Vukovic and Zoë Geltman’s fraught mother-daughter bond. Set in small-town Texas, their scene succeeds in painting us a believable home. As a household often without cash, their home sets up an interesting mooching economy between the women, who despite their grievances, can’t help but belong to each other. In another scene of inertia, the wonderful Becca Blackwell plays a hermetic cashier who can’t quite muster the gumption to get the heck out of Gary, Indiana. “We can eat strawberries year-round and pretend like Lake Michigan’s the ocean,” Blackwell tells a remarkably well-behaved dog, the apartment’s other resident. Blackwell’s character is a pro at turning a hope into a cope: self-actualization comes easy when confined to inspirational quotes and coconut water—instead of actually adventuring out of town.
Embodying a country so expansive, nearly all of the Americans in Nothin’s Gonna Change My World yearn for lives that are larger than their own. The show tries to match the magnitude of the fabled “American dream,” but the attempt to embrace so much story leaves me feeling adrift, like an amused tourist who can only observe, knowing little of the local language to be able to participate. An obviously skilled director, Rovegno’s execution seems to valorize poetics of place and staging over sustained meaning delivered through the text, keeping the show from never quite laying anchor. Perhaps, as Rovegno demonstrates, one of contemporary performance’s healthiest challenges to its audience lies in the open invitation to wander—rather than arrive.
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