The Idea of America

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

23/03/2010 - 28/03/2010

ARTWORKS, 2 Korora Rd, Oneroa, Waiheke Island

03/12/2010 - 04/12/2010

TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland

10/11/2010 - 14/11/2010

BATS Theatre, Wellington

08/03/2011 - 19/03/2011

Production Details

There’s nothing wrong with a little drink, the Bible’s full of wine! 


Academy Award, and two time Emmy, winning director Milton Justice was just one of the many distinguished artists who helped Sam Shore bring to life his wickedly astute new play The Idea of America. First performed in late 2009 and playing to sell out audiences, its fast paced dialogue and vivid theatricality made it a must see. It was quickly picked up for further production both locally and internationally.

This exciting new work draws on the strengths of two generations of New Zealand performance artists. Award winning designer John Parker, recognized as one of our leading theatre designers, established playwright Gary Henderson and acclaimed actor, and current ‘Go-Girls’ cast member, Michele Hine, join forces with Sam, and a lineup of some of New Zealand’s finest up and coming talents, to create a captivatingly original portrayal of family life.

Jude, a failed actress battling dementia, seems to think she’s a lot more famous than she actually is. Between playing mother and battling with her illness, she escapes into a world of sequins, air-kisses and grand sweeping entrances. Amongst all this her conservative and bigoted daughter, Holly, returns to the fold. Youngest Maureen, and secretive older brother Sean, greet her warily. As things turn from bad to worse the comically dysfunctional siblings must unite in a common cause. Lies are exposed, old wounds reopened and each must struggle with their own off beat neuroses.

Let The Idea of America take you on a funny, touching and thoroughly entertaining journey as one by one these seemingly mismatched individuals learn once more what it is to be family.

MICHELE HINE: An artist of extra-ordinary quality, projecting each of her characters with delightful wit, vitality and authority” Daily Telegraph London.
“Gem of the Fringe” Theatreview “ Most promising performer” NZ Herald

The Idea of America is part of the FRESH PRODUCE at The Basement:

Tuesday 16th – Sunday 28th March
The Basement , Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD

Tues 16 – Weds 17 March: Battered 7pm
Thurs 18 – Sat 20 March: Pro-Posing 7pm
Tues 16 – Sat 20 March: Green Room 8pm
Tues 23 – Sat 27 March: Wallflower 7pm
Tues 23 – Sat 27 March: The Idea of America 8:30pm & Sun 28 March 2:00pm.

TAPAC season
OPENS: Wed 10 November 2010 
CLOSES: Sun 14 November 2010
TIMES: Wed 7.00 pm / Thur – Sat 8 pm / Sun 7 pm + Sun matinee 2 pm

BOOKINGS at or phone 09 845 0295 

The Idea of America plays Art Works Theatre Waiheke,

cnr Korora & Ocean View Roads, Oneroa, Waiheke Island
Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th December at 7.30pm

JUDE – Michele Hine
HOLLY – Isla Adamson
MAUREEN – Jocelyn Christian
SEAN – Andrew Ford
PATRICK – Joel Herbert
MARTY – Ciarin Smith

New blood, Chelsie Preston-Crayford and Harry McNaughton join the talented lineup of actors this season.

JUDE – Michele Hine 
HOLLY – Isla Adamson 
MAUREEN – Fern Sutherland 
SEAN – Andrew Ford 
PATRICK – Joel Herbert 
MARTY – Ciarin Smith

DESIGN – John Parker
COSTUME/DESIGN – Emma Turnbull
STAGE MANAGER – Terry Shephard
LIGHTING – Michael Craven

American dream on-stage

Review by Lynn Freeman 17th Mar 2011

You would think this play has come to us directly from off-Broadway. That’s not just because it’s set in America – it also offers such an insight into the American Dream and the production itself is polished to near perfection. This is its fourth season so that gives it a big advantage, but you get the sense it was sensational from the start. Sam Shore directs his own script and turns in award winning achievements in both roles. 

She introduces us first to an aging stage star (Michele Hine, in devastating form) whose situation gradually unfolds. Her escape from reality comes from alcohol and the security of her dressing room and costumes. Her story is interspersed with the story of three desperate and warring siblings who are all struggling to deal with disappointments in their lives. They are together, but so very much alone.

Isla Adamson plays a bitter woman estranged from her husband and her family. Fern Sutherland is the angry teenager in a big hurry to grow up, which she thinks means having sex. Their brother, portrayed by Andrew Ford is angry too, forced to care for his family while at the same time looking for an escape in love, or at least sex.

It is an explosive situation and what is so clever is that while individually none of the siblings are likeable, you can’t help but care for them. As the stories are woven together, you are drawn into their sadness – then you come to understand the reason for it. Credit here to the writer and to the actors, lead roles and in support, who give their all to this production.

Hine blends the dramatic and the real of her faded star, Sutherland is wonderfully willful, while Adamson and Ford have the toughest characters to get us to worry about but manage to do so masterfully.

John Parker’s set of hanging ghost like costumes reminds us of the American Dream – fame and fortune. Really though don’t we all just want to be loved?
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.   


Make a comment

Messed up family’s powerful portrayal painful to watch

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 12th Mar 2011

Dysfunctional families are a source for powerful dramas as seen in countless Hollywood movies and American TV soap operas. The disappointment felt by the children, of not only an unloving parent but at their own failings, is often at the heart of family dysfunctionality.

New Zealand writer Sam Shore says in his programme notes that this formed the basis for his hard-hitting no holds barred play The Idea of America. And this certainly comes across in the tightly written dialogue that has a reality to it that at times is painful to watch. 

Central to the story is aging diva Jude (Michelle Hine), an alcoholic who didn’t quite make the big time in musical theatre and who is now suffering from dementia. She narrates her dreams and aspirations to the audience in an appropriately designed dressing room on one side of the stage while on the other her two daughters and son play out their angst ridden lives with ferocity and bitter resentment. 

Apart from a poignant scene at the end of the play when she is visited by the eldest daughter she is never seen in communication with her children, yet her presence and effect on their lives is real and very evident. 

Holly (Isla Adamson) splits from her cheating husband Patrick (Joel Herbert) and goes home to live with her precocious younger sister Maureen (Fern Sutherland) and their brother Sean (Andrew Ford), a closet gay. He has been the one to cope with Jude in her declining years while having a tempestuous relationship with Marty (Ciarin Smith). Michelle Hine as Jude is great, in that through the diva personae she is able to imbue the character with a humanity that makes her moments of lucidly real and believable. 

The other actors play out the family infighting with the right amount of venom required in such situations, Fern Sutherland in particular is outstanding as the liberated yet insecure Maureen trying to elicit what it’s like doing it for the first time from her uptight older sister. 

Yet ninety minutes of relentless angst and out pouring of bitterness, while certainly real, becomes almost too much and moments of warmth in order to finding something further under the characters would have made the play more interesting and less like a TV soap opera. But for all that this is nevertheless a powerful piece of theatre and the upbeat final song and dance routine giving hope to the disappointment, even if only temporarily, made for a great finish to the production.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


Make a comment

Disturbing depiction of disappointment

Review by John Smythe 09th Mar 2011

At the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards-before-last a young actor/producer explained to me that America was part of their cultural fabric. They had grown up on Sesame Street, after all. Therefore, as theatre artists, they may well feel a need to explore, confront, question, deconstruct and/or celebrate that – their relationship with America – as much as any other part of their lives.

Writer/director Sam Shore trained as an actor at the Wellington Performing Arts Centre (WPAC), worked on Lord of the Rings and King Kong, went to Melbourne and got involved with Fly-on-the-Wall Theatre, then relocated to Auckland, gaining a post-graduate diploma a Unitec “majoring in writing and directing for theater [sic].”

In his programme note, Shore reveals, “The Idea of America began as my written reflections and the conversations I had with myself on the topic of disappointment.” In response to those who ask why he has set his play in America, he answers, “… it was here that I felt resided a miraculous inability to separate what we dream from what we live. It was through the American culture and the American dream that I saw the ways we measure ourselves up against perfection, and all the ways we so often fall short. What should we have, how should we look, and what should we attain in a lifetime?”

The result is a very competent imitation of an American play; a reflection of those dramatisations (on stage and screen) that use a dysfunctional family as a metaphor for the state of that nation. Or in this case, the state of Shore’s idea of a nation disappointed with itself.

Had it not worked so well I would have asked where, in his play, are the “we” whose dreams he speaks of? Why has ‘our’ authentic personal experience of cultural imperialism-cum-jealousy been displaced by a play with no reference to ‘us’? His work is akin to a TV series script writer’s absorption and regurgitating of people and lives sourced, as a genre, from constant exposure to American TV, films and plays?

But for all that it does work extremely well, as the manifestation of an idea of America dreamed up by Sam Shore: a young New Zealander’s dream of an America that lives in a dream-like reality bathed in the faded dreams of glory.

In more prosaic terms, The Idea of America tells of Jude and her three adult children, Holly, Maureen and Sean, whom she loved less than starring in musicals and who suffer accordingly. Character-wise, I see them as close cousins to core cast members of Six Feet Under, Brothers and Sisters, et al.  

The introductory music and full-on finale suggest Jude’s shining hour was playing the lead in Mame; where and for whom is not specified but it seems she was never a household name. Nor did a household hold any attraction for her, although she did have three children, by a husband/father who escaped when the children were small and who seems to hold no place in their current needs.

John Parker’s tawdry dressing room setting, offset by gorgeous costumes dangling in the surrounding darkness, lit by Pete Davison, suits the state of Jude’s deteriorating mind well but the chaise longue is not a good fit for the park bench scenes. Although Jude talks directly to us and draws us into her world, the scenes involving her children play out well away from her consciousness, apart from one confrontational yet poignant scene with Holly.

Michele Hine is quietly compelling as Jude, eschewing the ‘drama queen’ cliché for an altogether gentler rendition of disintegration. She has the charisma of certainty about her place in the world, and is blissfully oblivious of the harm she has caused (a valid metaphor for America herself?).

Just as we finally get her measure and feel ready to judge her harshly, she/Shore brilliantly defines disappointment as “the grief of being denied our appointments with life” then dons the wig and the frock and seduces us all over again by leading the full cast in ‘Open a New Window, Open a New Door’ (from Mame). For a moment it seems possible that America could really be ready to “Travel a new highway / That’s never been tried before” …? Then we wake up.

Introduced in a post-party scene with her partner Patrick (a strong cameo from Joel Herbert), Isla Adamson’s Holly captures perfectly the acid-gutted woman who has been disappointed since her mother upstaged and ignored her at her 11th birthday party, but soldiers on by trying to make life cleaner and tidier that it can ever be.

As the son/brother Sean whose family doesn’t know he’s gay, Andrew Ford teams with Ciarin Smith’s Marty to play out powerfully subjective scenes of self-doubt and sexual objectification. The scenes with his sisters also ring very true.

Fern Sutherland plays Maureen, the teenager, with such truth we cannot write her off as a selfish brat, although she is. Knowing stuff but lacking the wisdom to handle it, she is totally devoid of empathy for others, yet Sutherland finds a vulnerability in her that reveals her subconscious search for a meaningful place in life.

Sam Shore as director must also be credited with creating the space for these performances to shine. The performances are so good that I’m prepared to accept the lack of foundations in their stories (how do they make their livings; how do they go about eating? etc) is an intended statement about America.

I have a disturbing thought that these actors may be more comfortable adopting these American personae than exploring and expressing their own part of the world. But of course they have track records that give the lie to that notion.

What does disturb me, however, is the idea that yet another generation may feel that the emotional complexities that enrich The Idea of America are not part of the fabric of New Zealand life. But I am not ready to say this is so and lapse into disappointment. And I do look forward to a play that reveals Sam Shore’s idea of New Zealand.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


Make a comment

Nancy says… Sylvia says…

Review by The Common Critic 02nd Dec 2010

If you’ve ever stumbled in on a private argument between two lovers, a family dispute or intimate liaison, you’ll be familiar with that awkward feeling of having seen too much – and that peculiar guilt that comes as your interest is piqued …

The Idea of America, fora brief moment, almost manages to make dementia look glamorous. This is in so small way attributable to Michele Hine’s portrayal of Jude …



Make a comment

Dysfunctional family compete for misery title

Review by Janet McAllister 12th Nov 2010

Lively though disjointed drama shows a fine understanding of middle-class relationships   

Sam Shore writes a good argument – several, in fact – in this lively drama about family dysfunction. He has an ear for middle-class crossfire: an unhappy couple exchange stilted phrases and accusations; a teenager sarkily throws articulate insults at her older siblings who are waaay uncool.

This is an unannounced round-robin contest of one-on-one combat for the title of biggest misery-guts (no scene features more than two characters). In the tradition of Mommy Dearest, the fount of all unhappiness is an alcoholic actress, Judith (Michele Hine), who opens the play all false eyelashes and false modesty. All three of her children exhibit some of her egotism. [More]
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Make a comment

Thematically depressing yet in equal parts uplifting

Review by Karyn Cushen 11th Nov 2010

After sold-out performances earlier this year, The Idea of America has returned for a strictly limited season to once again rouse audiences with its characters’ delusions of grandeur, belts of sibling petulance and the sobriety of alcohol-fuelled dementia.

Thematically depressing, yet in equal parts uplifting, The Idea of America documents how an atypical dysfunctional family copes with the gradual demise of its matriarch’s sanity. The perspective is ever changing from the individual circumstances of the three central siblings to the fantastic world cultivated by their mother. These perspectives intertwine to weave a central narrative that drives the plotline. 

The dynamic script is perhaps the strongest feature of the piece. It is beautifully structured, with authentic characters, strong dialogue and even tinkers with self-referential elements. Shore has managed to capture the heartbreaking reality of dementia without trivializing its respective victims, be it the sufferer or the family unit. 

This clever script is brought to life by a bevy of professional talents, notably Michele Hine as the charismatic lead and the convincing diatribe of Chelsie Preston Crayford and Andrew Ford.

The Idea of America
is a heavy, testing, emotionally driven piece that beats you down, but, with only minutes to spare, manages to pick you up. It’s realistic, universal themes allow it to appeal to a broad spectrum of theatregoers. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Make a comment

Un-idealistically realistic

Review by Caoilinn Hughes 24th Mar 2010

An aging American actress deep in the throes of a life-long monologue. Her abandoned children trying to get on with their broken lives amid the lingering costumes of their mother’s past.

Despite its poster – which promises an awkward mish-mash of Tennessee Williams and Julian Clary – The Idea of America is a poignant, at times devastating play about the emotionally-fraught reality of family life and compromise.

Writer Sam Shore admits that “this play began as an excuse to unleash all the words I couldn’t seem to drop into casual conversation.” And this is how the play, too, opens; unleashing the verbally and physically flamboyant character of Jude upon her ‘audience’. All hand gestures, frisky fur collars and clichéd meta-theatricality to begin with, Jude fulfils all of the Sunset Boulevard expectations off the bat.

Witty, sexy, entertaining: yes. However, what becomes much more interesting is the less frivolous, self-diagnosed victim of dementia whom Michele Hine portrays with ever-increasing sincerity and weight.  

Scenes of the actress in her ‘dressing room’ – which we later discover to be her asylum – performing the gorgeous script of her life, are interspersed with scenes of her children’s dysfunctional lives.

First we meet highly-strung Holly; the breakup of whose marriage we witness on-stage through the safeguard of a bathroom wall and a packet of cigarettes. Holly – played convincingly, if somewhat inconsistently by Isla Adamson – returns to her family during the play, only to discover that her brother Sean (understated to perfection by Andrew Ford) has discovered his sexuality in the park at night, and her young sister Maureen wants advice on hand jobs rather than homework.

Maureen, who is performed somehow charmingly by Jocelyn Christian, is the youngest victim of her mother’s disorder. Despite her Valium habits, “boobs up to her chin” and vulgar selfishness, Maureen brings humour and levity to an otherwise bleak family portrait. But we get the feeling that Maureen has never had a parent, and her brother’s attempts to take her out for a civilised lunch are taunted by the image of a 50-year-old doing splits at the back of their minds.

Jude sits at her dressing table throughout the play and throughout her children’s lives, occasionally wandering through the neighbourhood of costumes which hang from the otherwise minimal set (designed by John Parker). Her presence is felt at every level of the play’s narrative: the lessons and messages of her script are dramatised by her son’s and daughters’ failures and disappointments.

Jude’s final lesson for ‘the audience’, which she insists is so much more stable than family, puts The Idea of America into fresh perspective: The ideas Americans have – the dreams, the ideals – must be compromised.

Of these ideals and dreams, the characters “inevitably fall short”, Sam Shore writes in his Author’s note, “because of their misguided ideas of what a life should be.” However, Shore’s writing and the performances in this production do not fall short. It is very much a play about ideas and performance versus reality, and the performances here are un-idealistically realistic.


Katie Montgomerie March 28th, 2010

 I too very much enjoyed this play. Sam Shore has done a fantastic job of capturing each of these characters in the script and not only did he write this play, he directed it too. I would recommend everyone to go and see The Idea of America as it is a play that has something for everyone and although the subject matter is heavy, the ending left me with a huge smile on my face.

Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council