Three shows reveal the lighter side of the ongoing 2017 Capital Fringe Festival, featuring dozens of acts around town this month. Celia Wren enjoys Lauren Gunderson‘s entertaining “Exit, Pursued By a Bear”; Cassandra Miller looks at the rom-com “Mr. Taken”; and Roger Catlin eyes Joey Novick’s solo “Comedian Elected to Town Council in New Jersey.”

“Exit, Pursued By a Bear”

As a cure for inertia, try the classics. Animal lover Nan has been unable to leave her abusive husband, a frequent illegal hunter around their rural Georgia home. But after Shakespeare climbs higher on her radar, thanks to a new friendship with an actress, Nan sees a way out. High drama is called for: something to spark catharsis. She will duct-tape hubby to a chair and lure in local carnivores.

That is the premise for “Exit, Pursued by a Bear,” a hoot of a dark comedy by the widely produced playwright Lauren Gunderson. Full of wicked incongruities, as well as meta-theatrical touches that will amuse the stage-struck, the play is on view at Capital Fringe in a beguiling Barabbas Theatre production, directed by Kevin O’Connell.

When you walk into the Lab II space at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, you find Kyle (Devon Richard Ross) already lashed to a mustard-yellow armchair. When the play proper revs up, with (among other visuals) a series of stage directions projected onto the backdrop, we meet Nan (Katrina Clark), a Jimmy Carter-quoting do-gooder, now bent on revenge. With the help of her thespian pal Sweetheart (Moriamo Akibu) and best friend Simon (Reginald Richard), Nan stages biographical reenactments aimed at forcing Kyle to acknowledge his misdeeds before the bears arrive. (On one level, the play is an impudent answer to “The Winter’s Tale.”)

Clark convincingly manifests Nan’s moments of wavering and resolution, and Ross displays the nice guy buried beneath Kyle’s boorishness. Richard is very funny as the opinionated Simon, who shows up in a cheerleader outfit, trying to boost Nan’s morale. (Teri Gillmor supplied the costumes and projections.)

The production’s ace card is Akibu, who is hilarious as Sweetheart. At one point, this theater fanatic relives her successful galvanizing of Nan’s revenge impulses: Dressed in short shorts and a midriff-baring top, clutching a Shakespeare volume, Sweetheart dips into a power squat and purrs: “Let’s get classical.”

— Celia Wren

July 11, 13, 18, 19 and 22 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, Lab II, 1333 H St. NE.

“Mr. Taken”

Six present-day 20-something friends — three women and three men at various stages of coupling — navigate sharing beds with one another while the ladies occasionally girl-fight in negligee with a heel in hand and the men yell at a football game offstage.

Something of a “Friends” rip-off, “Mr. Taken” has enough drama for a kooky sitcom, but one that probably wouldn’t make it past a pilot episode. Out-of-touch dialogue and excessive, awkward partial nudity dampen what has the potential to be a solid show, albeit one packed with well-worn sex comedy tropes.

The 90-minute play, written by adjunct professor and statistician Ward Kay and directed by his 17-year-old daughter, Tess Kay, focuses on unlucky-in-love Patty, unhappily-in-a-relationship Jen, and Liz, who is newly engaged to Eric, the object of Patty’s affection. By the end of the first act, Jen’s boyfriend, Marcus, has moved out; Eric has connected romantically with all three women; and the sixth character, Charles, has made delicious cookies that the ladies enjoy with lots of wine. The next two acts unfurl after Jen and Eric have broken up, and each has slept with one of the other characters.

The performances in “Mr. Taken” are a mixed bag. Jeannie Melcher gives a charismatic and compelling turn as complicated Jen. Also enjoyable is Jamel Lewis as a delightfully nerdy Charles. Valerie Holt plays Liz like a fifth “Golden Girl” with a Katherine Hepburn accent, which is entertaining but underscores the show’s problematic dialogue, which ages its characters way beyond their years. Eric is called a “cad,” and a Theodore Roosevelt reference is played for multiple gags. Not very millennial. Neither is the underlining discourse on the perils of casual sex.

The show’s not exactly “woke,” but it threads some spot-on relationship insights throughout, and you root for most of the characters.

— Cassandra Miller

90 minutes. July 14 and 15 at Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

“Comedian Elected to Town Council in New Jersey”

Sen. Al Franken is probably the best example of a comedian who became a successful politician. But on the local level, there is Joey Novick.

The round, grizzled, Brooklyn-born stand-up ran for borough council shortly after he moved to conservative Flemington, N.J., and he claims to be the first Democrat to win there in 26 years.

That led to his offering at Capital Fringe, “Comedian Elected to Town Council in New Jersey,” a stand-up routine that is also an apparent work in progress. “I’m working out some new material,” he explained. So there was a lot of the “Anybody here from New Jersey?” kind of thing.

Washington audiences expect a lot from their political humor — a form that has sharpened considerably in recent years through the best minds on late-night TV. So there was some disappointment that Novick generally skimmed over the details of running and campaigning, which included a negative ad, “Say Noey to Joey,” that he successfully railed against.

Other than adjusting to borough council decorum, he shared few stories from his 15 years as an elected official — though a Google search indicates a flurry of lawsuit threats that he didn’t go into.

Instead, he digressed to stories his dad told him. Bernie Novick sounds liked a character: He misled his fourth-grade son with an inflated view of his role in World War II, among other things. Novick fondly talked about inheriting his sense of humor from him, and devoted half the set to his stories.

Unfortunately, when you’re talking New Jersey politics, it behooves you to include at least a few new minutes about Chris Christie’s holiday on a closed beach — something every other political comic has jumped on. Even his 91-year-old father might have advised him, “Joey, try a little harder.”

— Roger Catlin

75 minutes. July 11, 12 and 13 at The Pursuit Wine Bar, 1421 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.