The Washington Post

With ‘McPherson Madness,’ Occupy D.C. theme reoccupies Fringe Festival stage

Poster art promoting "McPherson Madness," a Rabble Crew Production. The Capital Fringe Festival play stars Tina Ghandchilar, Jen Bevan, Sean James, James Cullen and Sha Golanski. (Courtesy Rabble Crew Productions/Courtesy Rabble Crew Productions)

The full political and social influences of the Occupy movement of 2011-12 might have yet to completely emerge, but its cultural effect continues to march forward.

After no less than three plays on the uprisings at last year’s Capital Fringe Festival, another premieres at the event this season.

Kelly Canavan based “McPherson Madness” on her four months at Occupy D.C.’s tent city in the shadow of the Civil War general, separated from a young son she had to leave behind.

The work’s chief character, Dreama, is haunted by being away from her 8-year-old son but is also dogged by treatment for seizures. She explains her dilemma to a doctor, a common theatrical device.

But she’s so torn, she’s represented on stage by two identically dressed actresses, Jen Bevan and Tina Ghandchilar.

Both are standouts among a large cast at Studio Theatre, made up in part of Canavan’s friends from Occupy D.C. playing themselves, a task that is not as easy as it sounds.

Director Lynnie Raybuck’s challenge is clear: directing people who, for months, defined themselves by not taking direction. So, there are some halting pauses between the intersecting lines and some unsure steps amid the complicated blocking.

Aside from the personal drama, which also includes a burgeoning love story with a Boston firefighter occupier who’s well played by Sha Golanski, there’s an honest look at life at Occupy D.C., where amid the hopefulness and profane chanting is some disillusion and more than a little drinking.

Life was so different in Occupy outposts that it’s worth examining all its unusual aspects, from the call-and-response “microphone” methods to the meeting hand signals. Some obvious Occupy veterans in the audience laughed loudest at the frustrations over the nightly general assemblies, whose details were summarized hurriedly onstage “because this is a play.”

More than a personal diary but less than a summary of the total Occupy experience, “McPherson Madness” seems as unsettled in its conclusion as Dreama does in her ultimate decision.

Catlin is a freelance writer.



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