Second Stage Theatre launches its 12th annual Uptown Series with American Hero, a play that is as much about the American Dream as it is about the prime rib sandwiches made by its characters. Said characters are three sandwich artists starting work at a new franchise. After a day of training by Bob, their odd franchise-owner, they launch the store’s grand opening… even though their owner never makes an appearance. Save for one more brief visit, Bob never returns to the shop. When sandwich supplies run out and the corporate offices fail to respond, the employees take matters into their own hands: they make their own homemade sandwiches to try and get paid.
The world of American Hero is very familiar. Pointed satire on corporate America? Check. Ditto for the banalities of fast food franchises? You got it, dude. Underdog misfits attempting to defy the odds and succeed on their own hard work and ingenuity? Ding, we have a winner. But all the parts add up to a whole more deeply satisfying than a turkey-Swiss combo. Bess Wohl’s dialogue makes you laugh and empathize with her imperfectly perfect characters. Leigh Silverman’s direction is one of the best kinds: the play flows so effortlessly that you forget there ever was one. And the four-person cast creates performances that are as honest as they are hilarious.
In the light of the recent Tony controversy regarding sound design awards, it’s worth mentioning that Jill BC Du Boff’s sound design for American Hero was my favorite design element of the show. (Dane Laffrey’s hyper realistic set that could be a real sandwich franchise shop is a close second.) During all of the transition scenes, instrumentals of pop hits are played (including “No Scrubs” and “Don’t Stop Believin'”). Not only are they garishly funny and mimic the music that is often played at franchise restaurants, but they also often fit the dramatic context of many scenes.
One of American Hero’s characters utters this line: “We’re all lucky to be here in this particular shit show.” As the audience learns the problems of every character, from the lowliest sandwich artist to a corporate executive, it becomes clear that every person has their own share of struggles and triumphs. And their own sandwiches to make.