The Washington Post

‘Beertown’ returns: Refreshments in the footlights

Tired of the same old summer routine: the sweltering afternoon by the pool, the mosquito armada at the picnic, the endless crawl to the beach? How about taking a detour from the seasonal humdrum and heading to the nerdly theatrical environs of Beertown?

Yes, Beertown, that mythic locality where civic authority is not only proactive but also interactive, where, courtesy of the flexible script developers of Dog & Pony DC’s “Beertown,” paying visitors have as much to say about hallowed municipal rituals as does the mayor or the city hall reporter.

The encouraging good-weather news is that “Beertown,” which had a successful engagement in its inaugural run on Capitol Hill last fall, will be back July 12-22, this time gaveling the proceedings to order in Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s rehearsal space, in its D Street show.

As a locally devised production that with charm and intelligence passes a magnifying glass over America’s grass roots, “Beertown” is the approaching theater event I’m most excited about in Washington, where the warmest months have ceased to be a dull recovery period for the rest of the artistic calendar.

Constructed as a pot-luck town meeting, during which the citizenry — that would be you and I — debate and vote on which items should go into the bedraggled city’s time capsule, the two-hour performance piece is a lovely spotlight on a peculiar Washington preoccupation. That would be, of course, democracy, and the impact of the times — hard or good — on the will of the people.

It’s more of this sort of thoughtful entertainment, drawing on a city’s indigenous interests, that a theater town needs to come up with. And it’s the type of inventive evening that can put a small troupe such as Dog & Pony squarely on the map.

“Beertown’s” return comes in conjunction with what has evolved into the centerpiece of Washington’s theater summer, the Capital Fringe Festival, which opens for its seventh installment July 12, and runs through July 29. (Tickets to its 134 productions go on sale June 18).

As in summers past, the festival is an irreverent dim sum, offering shows of fairly modest length that test the imaginations (and in some cases, the patience) of its often-enthusiastic audiences. Among this summer’s crop are “Beef Encounter,” a one-woman show about a food critic who has an eventful run-in with the source of her meals; “We Tiresias,” by D.C. playwright Stephen Spotswood, the story of Oedipus’s soothsayer; and “The Webcam Play,” a digital love story by Studio Theatre’s Tim Guillot (who happens to have been a student of mine at George Washington University).

The bigger companies around town will open their doors to some intriguing entries of their own. The comic potential of Shakespeare Theater Company’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (June 12-July 15) seems amplified by the presence of actors such as Veanne Cox and Michael Mastro.

Smooth craftsmanship will be on exhibit in “First You Dream: The Music of Kander and Ebb,” the transfer of a fine Signature Theatre revue, directed by Eric Schaeffer, to the Kennedy Center (June 8-July 1). And the tale of America’s first populist president pulsates to the rhythms of emo rock in the regional premiere of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” at Studio Theatre (July 11-Aug. 5).

These all provide theatrical rationale for hanging around even in the sultriest lulls of the swampiest days. Maybe we’ll even run into each other at the dessert table in Beertown.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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