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Fringe Festival: On Rabbi Freundel, an abstract ‘Macbeth’ and abortion

Acrobatics and silks in “MacBheatha” at the Capital Fringe Festival. (Bruce Wiljanen)

The latest abracadabra from the Capital Fringe Festival includes a swirling, silks-filled “Macbeth” meditation, a drama about the D.C.-area rabbi jailed for recording women preparing for mikvah baths, and an abortion piece with unexpected style. Amanda Erickson and Celia Wren report.

‘Abortion Road Trip’

“Abortion Road Trip” is a rare thing: It’s a zippy, feel-good comedy that has managed to attract protesters before every performance.

Rachel Lynett’s play, presented by the emerging D.C. troupe Theatre Prometheus, follows Lexa (the charismatic Lauren Patton) and her sister Minnie (a caustic, charming Dominique C. Brown) on their taxi ride from Texas to New Mexico. The 25-year-old Lexa is unhappily pregnant, so she has paid Driver (a warm, winning Renae Erichsen-Teal) $1,200 to take her over the border to terminate.

The trio banters, bickers and “get heavy” (Lexa’s term for talking about anything real). And though most of the show takes place in the car, flashbacks reveal a more complicated story, one that includes sexual assault, substance abuse, betrayal and, yes, love.

That description makes the show sound like an after-school special where very important lessons are learned. But “Abortion Road Trip” is a blast. It’s serious but also very funny, with relatable characters and (mostly) believable complications. And while the show is unashamedly supportive of abortion rights (Quinn, the show’s sole antiabortion character, is definitely the villain), it doesn’t shy away from abortion’s nuances and messy complications.

That’s thanks in large part to the show’s cast, who infuse their characters with warmth and empathy.

As the antiabortion activists yelling “you suck” and “you’re amoral” into a megaphone remind us, those qualities are often in short supply when it comes to this issue.

— Amanda Erickson

90 minutes. July 15, 18, 20 and 23 at Logan Fringe Arts Space: Trinidad Theater, 1358 Florida Ave. NE.

‘Constructive Fictions’

When Rabbi Barry Freundel speaks, you just have to sit there and take it.

And he speaks a lot in “Constructive Fictions,” a drama based on the real-life Freundel, an orthodox D.C. rabbi who secretly recorded women as they stripped down for their ritual mikvah baths. Freundel was arrested in 2014; he’s serving a 6½-year prison sentence.

Playwright A.J. Campbell’s drama is set in Freundel’s jail cell. He shares the stage with four of his victims (composites of the 152 women Freundel filmed without consent). Throughout the show, the women chime in with their version of events. The women are often angry, occasionally resigned. How, they wonder, could a man of God have taken such advantage?

Really, though, this is Freundel’s show, more monologue than anything else. He rants and raves, complaining about the lack of fluffy pillows and the indignity of being one of the few Jews in prison. He brags that “Jared and Ivanka” would have gone to shul with him and likens his suffering to that of Noah and Moses. In his mind, he’s the biggest victim, a powerful rabbi felled by a bunch of women.

“Constructive Fictions” describes itself as a show about “female empowerment,” one where the rabbi must listen to the stories of his victims every night from his D.C. jail cell. That’s not really how it plays out, though. The women say only a couple of sentences at a time, and the rabbi doesn’t even seem to hear them.

Watching “Constructive Fictions,” I found it easy to imagine what his real-life victims must have felt as they watched Freundel defend himself in court, frustrated and helpless. It’s a neat trick, even if I’m not sure it’s what Campbell intended.

— Amanda Erickson

60 minutes. July 20 and 23 at Gallaudet University’s Eastman Studio Theatre, 800 Florida Ave. NE.


In Shakespeare’s tragedy, the murder-bound Macbeth does not ask himself, “Is this an aerial silk which I see before me/The dangle toward my hand?” But you might almost think his question ran along those lines when you watch “MacBheatha,” an overambitious muddle of a production featuring acrobatics with rippling textiles.

This Cirque du Soleil–style touch arguably helps evoke the magic depicted in “Macbeth,” the conceptual springboard for this show. But “MacBheatha” also deconstructs the Bard’s text with reference to so many notions, and with so little clarity or refinement, that the overall effect is one of clutter and murk.

One does have to admire the sheer audacity of director/producer Alana Wiljanen and her collaborators. (The script is credited to Shakespeare, Wiljanen and Joseph Ickowski; the movement was devised by the 12-person cast.) They have concocted an hour-long aerial-silk-entrammeled production that alludes to the real 11th-century Scottish king who was the model for Shakespeare’s Macbeth; to King James and other real 17th-century figures who were caught up in the Gunpowder Plot (an event that has been seen as an influence on “Macbeth”); and to Plato’s theory of the soul. Along the way, the show rearranges and repurposes lines from Shakespeare’s play so that they relate to the conceptual frameworks.

According to the playbill — you’d be hard pressed to figure it out from the performance itself — the onstage black- or white-clad figures include a Noble Macbeth (Nunzio Cicone), a Tyrant Macbeth (Wiljanen) and a Timid Macbeth (Megan Wirtz). The kilt-wearing Historical Macbeth (Ickowski) speaks directly to the audience, recounting his own life, so that is clear enough, thank Hecate.

The acting is shaky. The acrobatics are basic (Jenell Biggs, Lauren Olinger and Zoe Walpole, who channel witches, chiefly do the honors — I think). On a lone positive note, the white aerial silks nicely evoke, at various points, flames, instruments of torture and the boundary between the real and supernatural realms.

— Celia Wren

60 minutes. July 9, 15 and 22 at the Lang Theatre in the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE.


Fringe tickets $17, plus one-time purchase of a $7 Fringe button. Available online at, 866-811-4111 and at Fringe venues.

READ MORE: Sadie Dingfelder previews the festival and finds politics