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A Vintage Vacation, 'Americana' Style

January 22, 1999|PHILIP BRANDES

Charles Phoenix's performance piece "God Bless Americana" is a simple, elegant example of theater on a budget.

From batches of "found" slides of strangers' vacations unearthed in thrift stores, Phoenix assembled a retro tour of the USA during the late 1950s and early '60s, strung together by a wry narration. In so doing, he takes the already surreal experience of looking through someone else's photo album to another level--a vicarious experience of Phoenix vicariously experiencing other people's vacations.

Starting from Hollywood, Phoenix charts a journey to the East Coast through the South, ending up at the New York World's Fair. Collapsed time frames and a northern return route allow us to join Alaska's statehood celebration and the Seattle World's Fair, culminating in a Hawaiian detour.

Through its visual barrage of vintage cars, clothes and ubiquitous ambrosia fruit salads, the plunge into kitschy period aesthetics is wickedly funny, though overlong for the thin premise--cutting about 20 slides would help.

Phoenix also could benefit from a firm dramaturgical reworking of his narrative and a theatrically savvy director. Rather than reciting his story from a slide projector at the back of the room, the tourist-attired Phoenix would be more effective if he remained onstage, perhaps in a rocking chair to the side of the screen and changing slides by remote control. And instead of the toe-dipping speculation on the characters and events depicted on the slides (which always get the biggest laughs), the words "could be" and "I guess" should be excised from his monologue--a fully fictionalized narrative would open up even more creative possibilities.

*

* "God Bless Americana," Glaxa Studios, 3707 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Jan. 31. $10. (323) 665-2456. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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