Leave it to the Welders to produce a play by a designer. Deb Sivigny's "Hello, My Name Is . . . " is a dramatic installation that roams through an old house in the District's Takoma Park neighborhood for audiences of about 15 at a time, immersing viewers in the world of mostly Korean adoptees growing up in America.
You expect creativity from the Welders, a playwriting collective that changes membership every three years. (The current group is the Welders' second class.) The outfit generates its hits and misses, but with recent ventures that include Stephen Spottswood's martial arts-themed "The Girl in the Red Corner" and Alexandra Petri's cyber-savvy "To Tell My Story: A Hamlet Fanfic," you feel the group not merely generating new scripts but also exploring fresh ways to use the stage.
Sivigny does away with the stage altogether. Audiences gather on the front porch of the old house that's now the artsy Rhizome DC and are ushered into the living room for snacks. You're guided to the front hall to welcome a 6-year-old girl to this supposedly Minnesota home. You can tell how to follow the action as it moves upstairs to a small bedroom lined with dolls, where the new girl quietly examines everything around her. In the next room, a loud American-born girl tries to get the attention of a Korean boy who wants to write to his mom.
There's an understated script here, ably acted by director Randy Baker's cast of eight, but for the first half of its 90 minutes the theme of home works more by atmosphere than by dialogue. The terse dialogue might not hold a conventional stage, yet a heart-to-heart chat is compelling as you eavesdrop around a fire pit in the front yard, and you're part of the toasts as a wedding reception gets awkward out back. You track three main figures into adulthood, and by the time they eventually meet in a Seoul restaurant. Sivigny has nicely set the table for nuanced arguments about adoption policies in Korea and the American agency that insists it's doing good.
The conventional new "Safe as Houses," on the other hand, gets stuck explaining itself again and again as a different kind of broken family has a "Twilight Zone" moment. It's Valentine's Day, and Isabel is celebrating with her second husband when her first husband walks in out of a storm — not realizing 10 years have passed.
Occasionally, Jonathan Miot, as Husband No. 1, busts out of the Logan Fringe Arts Space (where the play is being premiered by Pinky Swear Productions) and onto Florida Avenue. But generally the four actors are stagily housebound in director Megan Behm's functionally moody production, which is dominated by a rain-splattered windowpane upstage. Too little of playwright Natalie Ann Piegari's fantasy passes basic credibility tests, and too much overwritten dialogue is composed of flabbergasted variations on "I don't understand." Copy that.
Hello, My Name Is . . ., by Deb Sivigny. Directed by Randy Baker. Set dresser/props design, Patti Kalil; costumes, Frank Labovitz; sound design, Roc Lee; lights, Katie McCreary; choreography, Yasmin Tuazon. With Wyckham Avery, Linda Bard, Janine Baumgardner, Julie Garner, Jon Jon Johnson, Jennifer Knight, Momo Nakamura and Emily Sucher. Through Nov. 12 at Rhizome DC, 6950 Maple St. NW. Tickets $40. Visit thewelders.org. Safe as Houses, by Natalie Ann Piegari. Directed by Megan Behm. Set, Jessica Cancino; lights and video design, John D. Alexander; costumes, Liz Gossens; sound design, Kevin Alexander. With Carolyn Kashner, Annie Ottati and Patrick M. Doneghy. Through Nov. 11 at Trinidad Theater in the Logan Fringe Arts Space, 1358 Florida Ave. NE. Tickets $35. Call 866-811-4111 or visit pinkyswear-productions.com.