‘The Program Assistant’ at Capital Fringe Festival hits on harsh truth of post-grad life


Katie Ryan (left) and Abigail Casey star in The Program Assistant at the Capital Fringe Festival. (Courtesy John Krizel)

Life after college can feel like a desperate and depressing limbo where recent grads bereave the loss of carefree times when they aren’t scouring Craigslist for employment. Suddenly there are bills to pay, and the only way to do that is by taking a job — any job. Writer-director John Krizel incisively presents that reality in “The Program Assistant” and injects it with a lot of humor.

Charlie (Abigail Casey) and Laura (Katie Ryan) are GW alums and best friends who just moved into their first “big-kid apartment,” and both women are searching for work. Charlie is coming up on a deadline, though, because her parents are cutting her off in three weeks. So when she gets an e-mail about interviewing for a program assistant position at the State Department, she’s thrilled. The only hitch is that Laura got the same e-mail. And even though Charlie is slightly more qualified, Laura gets the job.

What unfolds then is two paths in parallel as Laura does the 9-to-5 thing and comes to terms with being an underemployed office drone, and Charlie takes a job waitressing. Both women are miserable at work, but they’re also sad at home. Although they vowed the program assistant job wouldn’t come between them, it does.

The story is a bit overlong, but it’s smartly told. That being said, the best moments of “The Program Assistant” take place outside of the Laura-Charlie relationship. The secondary characters are both hilarious and insightful, and the actors portraying them give some of the strongest performances. Paul Lysek appears to be channeling Chris Pratt as the lovable bro Will, Laura’s intern, and Amanda Spellman gets big laughs as a volatile college friend who spends most of her time seething over other people’s joyous tweets, Instagram photos and Facebook status updates. (Social media updates sporadically appear on a projector on stage.) Steve Isaac stands out as Mike, a gruff bartender and Occupy activist, who has a lot to say about Charlie’s hopes and dreams.

The play has some kinks, not the least of which is the tendency for performers to swallow their lines. The dialogue is great, but a couple of the actors have trouble projecting even in the small black box space. More distracting still are the countless scene changes, all of which require some amount of set alterations. A 30-second scene followed by 30 seconds in the dark for a set change feels at first disruptive and, after awhile, irksome.

But “The Program Assistant” hits on some truths about the Catch-22 of getting a job in certain fields. Charlie needs work to pay her bills, but the only way she can get a job that interests her is by taking an unpaid internship. And even then it’s all about who you know. As Mike tells her in his sardonic way, the system is broken. He may be a bit of a loose cannon, but he’s not wrong.

The Program Assistant

10:45 p.m. Saturday, 3:30 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. July 25 and 2:15 p.m. July 27 at Redrum at Fort Fringe, 612 L St. NW. 866-811-4111. www.capitalfringe.org. $17 plus the one-time purchase of a $7 button. About 80 minutes.

Washington-area native Stephanie Merry covers movies, theater and art for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. She’s also the section’s de facto expert on yoga, gluten-free dining and bicycle commuting.
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