Matthew Shea and the cast of Single Carrot Theatre's "Putin on Ice." (Britt Olsen-Eckercould)
Theater critic

This review is a message from Vladimir Putin, for Putin saturates our lives and always has. He is in Shakespeare. He is in your snacks. A puckish and absurd new performance in Baltimore demonstrates this; it’s called “Putin on Ice (That Isn’t the Real Title of This Show).”

It doesn’t really tell you about Putin any more than another new topical show, David Greig’s stark “The Events” at Anacostia’s Theater Alliance, tells you about its subject: mass shootings. Both 80-minute sociological anatomizations are staged with flair, with the frisky “Putin” as the more watchable of the two.

The Putin fever dream is a collaboration between Single Carrot Theatre and Baltimore’s Acme Corporation, written by Acme co-founding artistic director Lola B. Pierson. The self-aware presentation starts with a sideshow experience in the lobby, where you can be blindfolded and escorted behind a curtain for an initiating experience with Putin.

“It’s not a secret,” your guide whispers as you exit, telling you not to talk about it. “But it’s private.”

Another refrain is “You are free to leave at any time,” which is rich, especially once you reach the sinister finish of this experience. Getting there is largely a lark as Pierson and Russian-born director Yury Urnov snap together snippets satirizing Putin’s omnipresence. The rigidly drilled actors are robbed of distinctive personalities except in their subversive costumes (by Molly Cohen) and their character names, which include “Hockey Putin,” “Baby Putin” and, for a Putin in drag, “Drag Putin.”

The show lags during a game sequence and bites off more than it can chew when the cast picks up instruments and swings into jazz from the Harlem Renaissance, where of course Putin was a key player. But the creativity generally keeps firing on multiple levels, from wicked side-by-side video comparisons that would make Jon Stewart proud to a start-of-World-War-I sequence dramatized with toys and a tiny handheld camera.

During the drive home after Friday night’s opening, the radio news reported on former 2016 Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s guilty plea in the ongoing Robert S. Mueller III investigation — an item that did not mention Putin but made you think about him.


Regina Aquino and Josh Adams in Theater Alliance's "The Events." (C. Stanley Photography)

Scottish dramatist Greig’s 2013 “The Events,” inspired by the horror of the 2011 massacre by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway, does not provide such a lingering takeaway as it examines the aftermath of a white racist’s rampage that slaughtered members of a multicultural choir.

The earnest Greek-styled drama focuses on choir director Claire, and Regina Aquino gives a ruthlessly transparent performance as the questing, suffering survivor. Claire struggles to understand, but the trauma is awful and sometimes her wrath gets the upper hand. Aquino seems to be frankly living through each phase.

The other chief figure is the Boy, the troubled young shooter immersed in medieval notions of purifying berserk violence. Josh Adams persuasively plays this figure and others — Claire’s lover, her therapist, the boy’s father — but Greig cuts his slices too thin as Claire grapples. The brief scenes smack of dry explanation as we learn of the boy’s troubled upbringing and listen to a fascist activist’s double talk about complicity.

The mood is maximally empathetic in Colin Hovde’s staging at the Anacostia Playhouse, where Giorgos Tsappas’s minimalist set is a gloomy gray slate of sea and sky. The emotion is amplified by an onstage chorus, again Greek-style, occasionally playing small parts and singing Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” among other tunes, because it’s said to be influential in the boy’s seething brain. (It seems that the songs and local references can change with each staging.)

How to dramatize random mass gun violence? This is the third show to take on the problem in the past two months. It’s not solved yet, but the surge says a lot.

Putin on Ice (That Isn’t the Real Title of This Show), by Lola B. Pierson. Directed by Yury Urnov. Costumes, Molly Cohen; lights, Eric Nightengale; music director, Stephen Nunns; sound design, Steven Krigel; video design, Nitsan Scharf. Through Oct. 7 at Single Carrot Theatre, 2600 N. Howard St., Baltimore. $29. 443-844-9253 or singlecarrot.com.

The Events, by David Greig. Directed by Colin Hovde. Original music by John Browne. Music direction, Marty Austin Lamar; costumes, Heather Lockard; lights, William K. D’Eugenio; sound design, Thomas Sowers. Through Oct. 7 at the Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Pl. SE. $40. 202-241-2539 or theateralliance.com.