Australian performance artist Wednesday Kennedy's one-woman tour-de-force Cultural Refugee provides a sharp look into American cultural and economic imperialism through the dark and often bemused lens of ... an Australian performance artist. The audience is welcomed into a cozy cabaret where they luxuriate in the warmth of American popular songs of the 1930s and '40s and enjoy a glass of champagne. Kennedy enters in a vivid red dress and blue feather boa worthy of a goddess of the silver screen, clutching an Australian flag. Kennedy is an irresistible performer - truly the "it" girl for the new century. Part wide-eyed girl from the provinces - part glamorous chanteuse, the savvy performer's ironic humor and smoky contralto singing voice held the audience in thrall.
Leading off with the funny and poignant song "I'm Poor," Kennedy detailed her efforts to find a job in Sydney, and the treatment of poor people in general. She then segued into the subject of American talk shows where wealthy celebrities vent about when they were poor, commenting that "it takes money to talk about being poor." Americans are also skewered for our cult of celebrity and our epidemic of obesity. Caught in the throes of a love-hate relationship with American culture, Kennedy laments, "... I wanted to hate you. But it was impossible ... You're so positive. You're so rich ... I find I'm becoming rather fond of you. Which is a dilemma. It'd be easier to hate you...."
Seduced and repelled by the consumerism and anti-intellectual climate here, Kennedy slyly described the differences between American and Australian cultures with a dead-on slide show (including a slide of the ubiquitous McDonald's golden arches). Kennedy's astute observations surprisingly stop short of being the zingers that could up the stakes and make a provocative evening even more compelling. While discussing the provincial bureaucracy of Australia against the backdrop slide of the Australian prime minister with Queen Elizabeth (looking like a couple of stuffy old fuddy-duddies - certainly prime targets for irreverent humor), an anticipated opportunity was glossed over.
Attacking one of society's last taboos - smoking - in a sultry ballad, Kennedy fearlessly admits her love affair with cigarettes. She openly discussed a breast cancer diagnosis, her unwillingness to stop smoking or seek appropriate treatment, all creating a feeling of unease in the audience - is this real or only a song? The discomfiture caused by these real or imagined disclosures finally gave the evening the edgy feel it needed to make the desired impact.
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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern