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Post-Grads: "Tired American Dream," at the Harrison Hilltop Theatre through March 6 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Jill Walsh   
Monday, 01 March 2010 06:00

David Turley, Chris Walljasper, Kevin Grastorf, Jason Platt, Sara Elizabeth King, and Cari Downing in Tired American DreamEvery good writer needs an editor. Composer/accompanist Derek Childs certainly needs one for his rock musical Tired American Dream, which debuted at the Harrison Hilltop Theatre last week. The opening-night performance, which lasted two hours with an intermission, had a few talented singers to boost Dream's simple plot, Childs' script has potential, and some of the songs have peppy melodies with sweet and memorable (if word-heavy) lyrics. But as a complete production, Dream felt too much like an early draft in need of revisions.

The story revolves around a recent college graduate, Dylan (Jason Platt), who has plans to leave Iowa and make it as a musician in New York City. When he meets 18-year-old Kennedy (Cari Downing) at a party, he falls for her, and the two quickly progress through the puppy-love stage into marriage, the working world, and eventual hardships. We've all heard or seen similar relationship stories before, and unfortunately, there's not enough character development or specific conflicts here to lift Dream out of what feels like a vague stupor.

Jason Platt in Tired American DreamWhile the character of Dylan has the well-defined dream of becoming a successful musician - and is probably the show's most autobiographical character, judging from Childs' notes in the program - the other six figures remain ambiguous. Professor Newman (Nathan Lane sound-alike Kevin Grastorf), for example, appears in the opening scenes, but we don't even find out what course he teaches or why he was such a great mentor for Dylan. (A first-act tragedy involving the professor draws little sympathy or reaction from the audience, because we simply didn't know anything about him.) Kennedy, meanwhile, exists only as the pretty young wife who waits like a quivering terrier by the door when her husband returns from work every night, and while she encourages Dylan's musical talents, she has no apparent ambitions of her own. The same goes for the other four characters, three of whom lament at length about their drunken infidelities, and eventually confess their unrequited love for each other. Blech. (If I wanted to waste my time hearing about a love triangle between intoxicated college friends, I'd visit the Augie or Ambrose dorms.)

It's unfortunate that such vocal talent was wasted on the vacuous characters of Peddy (Reader employee Chris Walljasper) and Emily (Sara Elizabeth King). These two actors seemed to be miscast as the foil couple; they should have been the leads. And other actors, I felt, shouldn't have been cast at all, namely Platt and David Turley (as best friend T.J.), who both had difficultly hitting many of their notes. These vocal glitches made it challenging for me to take this production seriously.

Kevin Grastorf, Annie Walljasper, Jason Platt, David Turlley, Sara Elizabeth King, Cari Downing, and Chris Walljasper in Tired American DreamFrom a staging perspective, director Tristan Tapscott utilized the three main levels of the space well, and even incorporated one of the overlooking windows as a pleasant, visual distraction during the second-act song performed by the production's three females. But I question the set design of painted skyscrapers: such massive towers would've made sense if Dream had propelled its characters to NYC, but they didn't work as a backdrop for the unnamed Iowa town with a grain elevator.

As an idea in development, Dream has promise. And there's no doubt Childs has the musical talent to make positive changes in the way of paring down some of his songs so actors aren't stumbling over so many words. I saw the way he looked up - so proudly - from the piano bench, and as a writer, I felt for him, as I know how hard it is to turn a great idea in your mind into a good or even passable one on paper. If Childs can define clearer intentions for his characters and a more specific direction for his plot, his Dream can become more than a hazy outline. But for now, no one should have to pay $10 to see it.


For tickets and information, call (563)449-6371 or visit

Comments (12)Add Comment
written by Annie Walljasper, March 01, 2010
Hey Jill,

I think your review is very fair... this is definitely a work in progress (only the 2nd time its been done - and the 1st time was meerly a reading) and I am sure there will be LOTS of changes after this run. Which would explain the lower ticket price than most of the shows at HHT.

However, I would have to say that the show you saw on thursday night was MUCH different than the show on Saturday... opening night, thursday... blah blah blah excuses, I know. But really it's been fun and in my opinion got better even from just a few runs with audience members. I'm sure you could see it again and get a comp... I know the producer. ;)

Anyway, welcome to the Hilltop, thank you for being an honest and fair reviewer. Seriously. No hard feelings at all. The criticism will make the show better, Derek will make changes and maybe someday HHT will do the show again!

written by Tristan , March 01, 2010
Hey everyone!

Come check out this new work! We need your feedback! Thanks, Jill for your valid and fair criticisms. We invite everyone to come see the show and give us your thoughts! It is a very important part of the creative process.

Spread the love!

Best wishes,
A work in progress indeed!
written by Derek Childs, March 01, 2010
I wasn't going to respond. Not really my style to defend my work and honestly, I agreed with much of your review. It's not my work, though, that I am worried about. It's the fact that you discouraged people to support a fairly new local theatre and let people know it isn't even worth $10 to go see a NEW work that is CLEARLY a work in progress. If you want to trash actors' performances and staging and set, I guess thats fair, but I really wish you would have thought twice about turning people away from something new. And $10!? They have to keep the lights on!
I think it's a fair price and I think it's worth checking out.
written by Derek Bertelsen, March 02, 2010
To Ms. Jill Walsh:

It's acceptable for you talk about conceptual issues or design issues or story issues. But for you to tell people to simply not attend a new musical (the River Cities' Reader is still the alternative/indie publication in the Quad Cities, is it not?) is uncalled for. We should be thankful that there is a local offering like this, especially in these economic times when theatres all over the country are folding.

I also find it highly disrespectful for one to write that two local actors "shouldn't have been cast at all." I've never read anything like that in any local review and hope to never read it again. I highly doubt you have a list of every single actor who is readily available with their appropriate vocal ranges and other vital information. (If you do have such a list, make it public. Casting could be made so much easier.)

This is a rare treat for the area: a new, original work being produced by a local theatre. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but the last time this happened was the 2005 production of Playcrafters' Altar Call by Melissa McBain. Five years! We should be thankful to see a work-in-progress instead of yet another Rodgers & Hammerstein carbon copy.

...oh, and "spread the love," I suppose...

Derek Bertelsen
Don't Worry...
written by Louis J. Hare, March 02, 2010
Derek & Derek,

While I appreciate your passion in wanting people to check out a new work, I seriously doubt that this review will deter that many people. Anyone who chooses to see this show BECAUSE it's a new, untested work is going to see it knowing that it's probably not perfect. I think it's a little dangerous to tell a critic exactly what they are and are not allowed to say in their review (believe me, I've tried and had my ass handed to me several times on this very website). Isn't it the critics job to give their opinion on whether or not a show is worth your time and money? That doesn't mean that the reader will blindy follow their suggestion. If that were the case, Tim Allen would be parking cars instead of making "Wild Hogs 2." What I respect about Tristan is he's able to take the criticisms in stride and not wallow in negativity. Keep it going, brother!
Review for Harrison Hilltop's Tired American Dream.
written by Autumn O'Ryan, March 03, 2010
I'm very disappointed with your review of TIRED AMERICAN DREAM. Some of the points were valid. But might I ask what credentials you have in theatre/musical theatre? Degree? Experience in the theatre? Onstage or off?? I've been in the biz for over 20 years and I've never read a review, for a WORKSHOP, that mentioned recasting suggestions. Number One...It's not professional. Number Two...Unless you're Hal Prince, one shouldn't print thoughts of recasting. And to tell the public not to spend the $10...again...unprofessional. Write your experience. Let the public decide for themselves...especially for a new theatre trying to get off the ground. Shame on you!
Autumn O'Ryan
p.s. And Kevin Grastorf sounding like Nathan Lane...really? When's the last time you saw Nathan perform?
written by Pearlie, March 03, 2010
Wow. Looks like Ms. Walsh has a bone to pick.
written by Hess, March 03, 2010
I am appalled that a reviewer would say such things about a performer like Jason Platt. He is probably one of THE best in the area. I have done many shows with him. He is an ultimate professional with many talents.

I have also heard Mr. Turley sing as well, I know he is not as bad as is said here.

Mike S. was honest in his reviews, but not mean and rude.

Reviews like this do not carry a lot of weight.

Wayne Hess

written by Ron N., March 03, 2010
I am amazed by all of these negative responses to a refreshingly honest review by a perceptive writer! Who cares if Ms. Walsh has been on stage or not - her job here is to write an article, not tap dance for us! And just because actors like Platt and Turley have been good in other shows, doesn't mean they were great in this one. I applaud Ms. Walsh's refusal to sugarcoat her opinions!
written by Autumn O'Ryan, March 03, 2010
To Ron N...Some people mistake meanness for honesty. There's nothing refreshing about that.
written by Tristan, March 03, 2010
Come out and see the show.. then decide for yourself! Spread the love!
written by Pearlie, March 04, 2010
Ron, you are right. A reviewer's job is to REVIEW, sugarcoat. If Walsh didn't like a show, or thought someone needed to be recast, she has every right to say it. I saw the show and don't agree, but suppose I did; would it be 'impolitic' and 'rude' of me because I expressed my opinion? The difference is that she gets paid for voicing it, as she's supposed to do. Now, there is a difference between thinking someone needs to be recast and just plain rudeness. Walsh was not rude, she stated facts. If the material is out of a singer's range, then he or she should not be cast in that role. I struggled hearing Platt a few times, but his charm won me over. Course, it may also have been where I was sitting. When Ruby Nancy did reviews, she could be rude, attacking someone for no reason. I don't remember this backlash for her. This is justified.

Remember, there is no such thing as bad publicity. This may bring people out who wouldn't see it to see 'how bad' these people were. And then walk away pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the show and am coming back for a second run. Just because Walsh didn't like it doesn't mean it holds weight.

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