In 2012, Baltimore’s Center Stage, the State Theater of Maryland, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by soliciting scores of American playwrights, both established veterans and emerging voices, to answer the question “What is my America?” with a short monologue. Fifty pieces were ultimately commissioned and director Hal Hartley filmed them all for Center Stage. Twenty-one of these pieces are woven into the feature My America.
This is not a collection of Hartley film shorts, at least not in the way we think of a “Hal Hartley” film. Whether working in short film or feature-length modes, Hartley’s voice is unmistakable and he put his camera in service to the word, or more precisely the lively, playful interplay of words. Imagine a college grad student’s reworking of a screwball comedy with a deadpan approach and Godard-ian flourishes. Conversation, debate, argument, lecture, philosophical musing, and the odd poetry of intellectual discourse in the measured cadences of call and response and cyclical talk, those are the heart of Hartley’s cinema and until now he’s written his own screenplays.
My America, a collection of monologues, raps and one-way conversations by American playwrights grappling in one form or another with the identity, the dreams and the realities of the American citizen, is Hartley engaging with other voices.