At the ongoing Capital Fringe Festival, Amanda Erickson says “Caveat” misses its chance to satirize D.C. group housing, but Roger Catlin finds a winner in the folklore-fueled solo act “There Ain’t No More!”
“There Ain’t No More!”
Capital Fringe’s imported shows touring the nation’s festival circuit bring tastes of the country that would not otherwise be represented. Willi Carlisle’s powerful “There Ain’t No More!” comes out of what they call N.W.A. — northwest Arkansas — in describing the final days of a folk singer from the hills, exorcising his demons on the way.
The hulking young performer in coveralls and flannel, who dons an old man mask to start, sounds craggy in the way the older Johnny Cash did in reprising songs passed down, and he gets the living room crowd upstairs at the Pursuit Wine Bar to sing along as he plays guitar.
He doffs the mask when he takes up other aspects of his character as he picks up other instruments — fiddle, banjo, squeezebox. Especially harrowing is a segment contrasting upbeat USO touring with grim realizations of Vietnam, with Carlisle ultimately singing Steve Goodman’s stark antiwar “The Ballad of Penny Evans.”
The production, directed by Joseph Fletcher, employs a lot of other stagecraft, from sock puppets to the double-purpose mask and the scrolled illustration of Japanese Kamishibai, paper theater that was popular in the pre-television Depression era they partly depict. Carlisle has a poetry in describing songs passed down through generations as a most precious cultural commodity, and a passion and immediacy in performing them. Both down-home and brainy, “There Ain’t No More!” is worth seeking out.
60 minutes. July 12, 15, 16 and 18. Pursuit Wine Bar, 1421 H St NE.
If you moved to D.C. as a 20-something professional, you’ve probably had the vaguely dehumanizing experience of applying for a group house.
“Caveat,” a new play written and directed by Ben Lockshin, mines that process for humor. The show follows four applicants as they email, then visit, a group house in the District. The room on offer: a “historic” (read: dingy) English basement with only a sliver of a window. The house has a back yard and a trio looking to add not just a roommate, but a “family member.”
The applicants include Salem (Bethany Coan), an earthy bartender who’s lived in Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon; Anna (a plucky Eva Coll), a high-strung consultant still reeling from a breakup; Carson (Emilio Hernandez), a bro-tastic Hill dude who DJ’s on the weekends; and Topeka (a diffident Krystal Ramseur), a grad student whose work is so all-consuming that she mystifyingly brings a notebook to the interview itself, doing problem sets while the other tenants are interviewed.
Many of the actors have an improv background, and the show feels more like a sketch than anything else, with archetypes vying to one-up each other with over-the-top blocking and delivery.
The exception is Trent (played with earnest gusto by Peter Narby), a handsy National Zoo accountant who’s so Zen that he does yoga between visits to the basement, and who steps away every once in a while to check on his borscht. Trent seems chill, but there’s something almost manic about his calm. At one point, Salem muses that he’s probably the kind of guy who acts like everything’s fine, then screams at you when the dishes don’t get done.
That’s the sense I get, too, which means Trent has some depth and nuance to him. Those two qualities are in very short supply for the rest of the show. And since the characters don’t feel real, the jokes (even the funny ones!) don’t feel earned.
It seems like a waste of some really good raw material.
45 minutes. July 16 and 23 at Gallaudet University’s Eastman Studio Theatre, Florida Ave. and 8 St. NE.
IF YOU GO: Fringe tickets $17, plus one-time purchase of a $7 Fringe button. Available online at www.capitalfringe.org, 866-811-4111 and at Fringe venues.
MORE FROM THE FRINGE FESTIVAL: