When the organizers of the D.C. State Players come out to announce that their Capital Fringe offering will be delayed because actors are late, nobody flinches. It’s not the first time this has happened.
But when the fussy director, Tonee Bollocks (an uncredited Tony Bullock), comes onstage with dim chief actor and foil Gabriel Sweetbottom (Gabriel Swee) to explain the many things that have gone wrong in “The D.C. State Players Present Agamemnon,” you realize the whole thing is a sham — a wonderful, hilarious sham lambasting the worst aspects of theatrical ambition.
I had admittedly been drawn to the piece by its tag line: “The worst show you’ll ever want to see!” Which is honest, at least. And if you can’t be best, why not be worst?
That’s just the kind of logic often used by the ponytailed, self-important Bollocks in a production that turns out more tragic than the original Greek. First, they’ve lost the esteemed Sir Dudley Playmore (who, we are told, is right up there with “Sir Dame Judi Dench”). Then Sweetbottom volunteers to play all the male supporting roles (using the same theatrically wavering voice no matter how much he tries to curb it).
The remaining cast includes Ashley San, as a sullen Clytemnestra obsessed with theatrical blood, and two chorus members battling to be the missing Clytemnestra, one named Briana and the other named Brianna.
Bollocks’s imagined theatrical flourish is to cast an African American man as the returning king, though the actor (A.J. Calbert) is understandably reluctant to perform as directed — in full-on MLK mountaintop holler, in what may be the show’s most hilariously cringe-worthy moment.
It’s all on its way to becoming a first-rate, deadpan, “Monty Python”-quality lampoon until Bullock and Swee exit. The air goes out of the play, and the Brian(n)as fight for so long it looks like they’re filling time.
Too bad — they’re one good act short of brilliance in this splendid, shambling production.
Catlin is a freelance writer.
The D.C. State Players Present Agamemnon
by Aeschylus and Tonee Bollocks. 75 minutes. At Capital Fringe through July 28. Visit www.capitalfringe.org.