If that sounds like a lot of work for an event as ephemeral as a night of improvisational theater, well, remember that the real city that is host to the production is one in which the denizens tease out inordinate meaning from minute chunks of census data. This attention to peculiar local custom helps to explain why Dog & Pony DC’s “Beertown” feels as if it is a performance piece grown as emphatically from the soil of this city as any in memory.
“Beertown,” collectively assembled from the imaginations of, among others, Dog & Pony DC stalwarts Rachel Grossman, Colin K. Bills and Wyckham Avery, is the company’s breakthrough show. After a half-dozen efforts, such as a seven-actor “Cymbeline,” a live-action version of Punch and Judy, and “Bare Breasted Women Sword Fighting” — “a vaudeville exploiting women and violence,” in the company’s parlance — this one seems to have found a sweeter spot in the tastes of theatergoers.
After a successful month-long stint last fall at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, the piece is being revived this week at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, where it runs as part of the Capital Fringe Festival until July 22. It then moves to Round House Theatre’s stage in Silver Spring for one additional performance, on July 28.
Mustering a remount is no small task for a company on a shoestring like Dog & Pony DC, but “Beertown” garnered the kind of appreciative reviews and affectionate responses that persuaded the 11-member theater collective that an evening in the pretend locality — built around one of those quirky municipal meetings that go on in small towns across the country — yet had more to say.
Though the creative team was guided by theories about audience integration and themes in serious literature, such as Sherwood Anderson’s 1919 short story cycle, “Winesburg, Ohio,” “Beertown” developed its own folksier charms. To the show’s originators, the degree to which audiences on Capitol Hill embraced the production could be digested as well as viewed: advised beforehand that they could bring desserts to a pre-show potluck, audiences supplied so many homemade cakes and cookies that on some nights the troupe didn’t know what to do with all of them.
The company’s output is in the local vanguard of a theatrical form that’s injecting some exuberant novelty and imaginative energy into the city’s stages. This loose genre of “devised” theater encompasses the work of innovative directors such as Natsu Onoda Power, whose “Astro Boy and the God of Comics” was developed this year at Studio Theatre and interactive, multimedia experiences spearheaded by Banished? Productions’ Carmen C. Wong, in shows such as “Into the Dollhouse” and the Fringe’s walkabout piece “The Circle,” for which theatergoers are being asked to bring MP3 players as they follow the map for a play performed as an “audiowalk.”