There’s a specific sort of aspirational quality to works with the word “American” in their title, a desire to say something that, whether critical or complimentary, may somehow seem emblematic. Now at Second Stage’s McGinn/Cazale Theatre with direction by Leigh Silverman, Bess Wohl’s American Hero is no exception. And while it does succeed in making that big statement about The Way We Live Now, namely that we’re overworked, underpaid, and dehumanized by corporate overlords, it feels a bit expected, more of a foregone conclusion than a hypothesis under consideration.
Without that ambiguity, the show ends up tasting slightly bland, which may perhaps seem inevitable for a play about sandwich makers (or, stubbornly, “sandwich artists”) toiling in a mall’s toasted sub franchise. True to form, they’re each neat archetypes of 21st-century minimum-wage workers. Diminutive Sheri (Erin Wilhelmi) is only 18, but constantly frazzled, as though perpetually on the brink of total physical collapse. Jamie (Ari Graynor), meanwhile, has the “fuck it all” carelessness and lax sexuality of a rock star, but the résumé of a mediocre hairdresser. Ted (Jerry O’Connell), a divorced father and former Bank of America employee, is the walking, talking version of the nauseatingly perky, can-do signs that adorn the shop (“Life is like a sandwich—the more you add to it, the better it becomes.”—Unknown).