The Washington Post

Dog & Pony’s ‘Beertown’ makes a splash in New York City

Rachel Grossman and Elaine Yuko Qualter in the production Beertown. (C. Stanley Photography)

The city fathers (and mothers) of “Beertown” — that fictional bastion of ballot-worshiping democracy — have temporarily pulled up stakes inside the Beltway and resettled smack-dab in the middle of Manhattan.

But relax, fans of Dog & Pony DC: The company that birthed “Beertown” on Capitol Hill a little more than two years ago is straying from its base in the District for only a brief spell. In an 18-performance run that ends Feb. 16, the troupe is exhorting New York ticket buyers to play along in its game of communal decision-making.

If the New York venture is a test run of “Beertown’s” portability, then Dog & Pony has to be encouraged. By all indications, Manhattan audiences are just as easily drawn into “Beertown’s” civic-minded process as Washington theatergoers have been. Last Sunday, the 50-seat performance space at 59E59 Theaters — a haven for imported work, such as last autumn’s stirring engagement of “All That Fall,” a staging of a Samuel Beckett radio play with Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon — was nearly filled with eager participants in Beertown’s faux plebiscite.

The two-hour show, directed by Rachel Grossman, is constructed as a town hall meeting in a Midwestern municipality of Dog & Pony’s creation at which citizens gather to vote on the contents of a time capsule. It is Beertown’s quirky tradition to dig up the capsule every five years so that the townsfolk may reconsider which items they want to enshrine for posterity and which might no longer be relevant. The last bottle that came off the defunct Beertown brewery assembly line is one of the memorialized items of long standing, as is the family Bible of one of Beertown’s founding families.

The idea, of course, is to turn us all into “Beertonians,” to remind an audience that it is a temporary kind of community. Our collective interest in what ends up back in that time capsule shaped like a beer barrel confirms this. I can report that after having had my say about the three sentimental or notorious local mementos nominated for inclusion — a recipe box, a gun and a ring — I felt an authentic stake in the outcome of the voting. As at a real municipal meeting, opening one’s mouth has consequences.

The lore of “Beertown” is commendably recounted in skits and flashbacks by Dog & Pony’s traveling company, which consists of many “Beertown” acting veterans. Wyckham Avery moves up capably here to the key role of the mayor. The confident handling of the material is reinforced in the rest of the cast: Elaine Yuko Qualter as a town librarian; J. Argyl Plath as a town administrator; Colin Hovde as a reporter; Grossman as a local school kid; Max Freedman as the Beertown state representative; and Jon Reynolds and Yasmin Tuazon as average Beertonians. It’s possible even in this most cosmopolitan of cities, it seems, to ride the small-town wave.

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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