Domestic harmony erupts into intractable American dissonances in Tracey Conyer Lee's "Rabbit Summer." A world premiere from Ally Theatre Company and part of the Women's Voices Theater Festival, the play centers on Ruby and Wilson Faison, an African American couple with a seemingly blissful marriage in suburban Ohio. The relentlessly upbeat Wilson is at peace with his job as a police officer. But when Ruby's friend Claire comes to stay, shortly after losing her husband to a white cop's gunfire, the trio grapple with warring ideas about police brutality, systemic racism and gun violence.
A bold and thoughtful but often workmanlike play, "Rabbit Summer" is billed as a "tragicomedy" — an arguably fitting moniker given the somber themes and plot twists that complicate the banter and wry situations. At the same time, the play can feel overly blunt: The characters sometimes address their concerns and speak to looming social issues in such a direct, plotted-out way that you can sense the playwright routing the talk.
The three appealing actors in director KenYatta Rogers's production haven't found a way to make such passages seem natural. Still, throughout the play, all three display stage presence and comic timing. Tamieka Chavis's stunned, caustic Claire is an affecting spectacle in her early scenes, a detail that adds impact when Claire and Jeremy Keith Hunter's Wilson develop a grudging appreciation for each other later on. Michelle Rogers is persuasively canny as Ruby, who comes up with a wildly ambitious scheme to make gun control more politically viable. (Robert Hamilton designed the modern living-room set, and Dominique Gaddy, the character-appropriate costumes.)
"Rabbit Summer" refers directly and indirectly to recent mass shootings, as well as to the violent deaths that fueled the Black Lives Matter movement. "45 Plays for 45 Presidents," the current show at NextStop Theatre Company, devotes time to recent American history, too, but it also looks much further back.
Written by Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloë Johnston and Karen Weinberg, the production is a largely spoofing, occasionally serious, sometimes capricious chronological overview of the men who have held the country's highest office. If you are amused by the idea of seeing James Garfield's career portrayed as a balletic silent movie, or the disputed 1876 election depicted as an actual boxing match, or if you need an irreverent refresher on the life of Millard Fillmore, this show may be for you. (Birthed during George W. Bush's presidency by Chicago's Neo-Futurists, the show is adjusted after every election.)
On a set that recalls a political-debate stage, an all-female cast (irony alert!), directed by Megan Behm, strides and swaggers through the roles, donning a passed-around general's jacket when channeling POTUS. Production high points include a poignant glimpse of tragedy in the lives of Franklin Pierce and his wife (Brittany Martz and Sarah Anne Sillers) and Mary Myers's impersonation of a bellicose Andrew Jackson. Carolyn Kashner and Chloe Mikala complete the cast.
Ultimately, the "45 Plays" script isn't as inspired as it needs to be, and the NextStop production, while lively and jocular, has a collegiate feel. A ringing ending is missing. A coda pleads that it's important to vote — but didn't we know that already?
Rabbit Summer, by Tracey Conyer Lee. Directed by KenYatta Rogers; lighting design, E-hui Woo; sound, Hope Villanueva; props, Katherine Offutt. About 2 hours 20 minutes. Tickets: $25. Through Jan. 28 at Joe's Movement Emporium, 3309 Bunker Hill Rd., Mount Rainier. Visit www.allytheatrecompany.com.45 Plays for 45 Presidents, by Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston and Karen Weinberg. Directed by Megan Behm; scenic design, Daniel Hobbs; lighting/projections, Sean Cox; props, E. Lynda Bruce. About 2 hours 15 minutes. Tickets: $20-$55. Through Feb. 4 at NextStop Theatre, 269 Sunset Park Dr., Herndon. Call 866-811-4111 or visit www.nextstoptheatre.org.