Celia Wren reviews Meshaun Labrone’s “Spook,” a one-man drama on cop killing and race, while Roger Catlin checks in on lighter personal solos from New York actor-memoirist Jamie Brickhouse and D.C. actor Vincent Clark.
Lady Liberty isn’t getting in bed with you.
A character in Meshaun Labrone’s searing one-man show “Spook” fires off this prediction, except that he uses a cruder turn of phrase. The profanely skeptical gibe at the American Dream becomes a blistering riff — just one of the explosive elements in this play, written and propulsively performed by Labrone (whose previous Fringe Festival hits include “Power! Stokely Carmichael” and “Right to Remain: The Life and Mind of Tupac Shakur”).
“Spook” purports to be the final public statement by Daryl “Spook” Spokane, a police officer on death row for killing five fellow cops. Speaking an hour before his execution, Spokane recalls, and portrays, the acquaintances and strangers who set him on the path toward his horrific act: the childhood frenemy who poisoned a dog; the neighborhood woman who hurled insults at passersby; the fellow officer who used a crime investigation as a pretext for taking sleazy photographs.
The memories overlap with some of America’s live-wire issues: racial tensions, gun violence, police malfeasance, entrenched inequality. As the Lady Liberty rant may indicate, the play sometimes takes a provocative approach to these topics. One sequence — ostensibly an ad on the TV channel running Spokane’s statement — parodies the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ “Angel” ad, casting African Americans (a more controversial term is used), rather than shelter pets, as the vulnerable population needing aid.
As a performer, Labrone is a gale-force presence, raging and brooding as the play’s protagonist but also conjuring vivid subsidiary characters, such as the adolescent dog-poisoner. Throughout the show, literal or expressionistic photos and video (shots of snarling dogs, shots of prison locations, cable-news-style footage) flash across a screen. Hope Villanueva designed the sound and video for the show, performed in a second-floor nook at Arena Stage, and Marianne Meadows designed the lighting.
The only other scenic element is a chair. Just a chair, you think — until you realize it represents an electric chair in a death chamber.
75 minutes. July 19, 21 and 26 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW.
— Celia Wren
Dangerous When Wet
His overbearing mother urged him to be an author; he wanted to be an actor.
Jamie Brickhouse does both in “Dangerous When Wet: Booze, Sex & My Mother,” his freewheeling comedic one-man show at Fringe, based on his well-received 2015 memoir that has also been turned into an audiobook.
Part book reading, part Alcoholics Anonymous address, with elements of comedy tempered by eulogy, the show is as stylish as his slick sport coats and as nostalgic as the family photos flashed behind him on a white-walled meeting room in St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.
Brickhouse is a natural raconteur whose sharp writing defines the piece. “I had no business being a child,” he begins one segment, describing early life in Beaumont, Tex., where he preferred playing “Bewitched” to baseball.
Mama Jean, who doted on him with “a love that had always cloaked me like a cashmere blanket in August,” didn’t cotton to his coming out in college, or his drinking or eventual drug use. It is his overdose, the central crisis of the work, that sends her to New York.
Brickhouse adds a few local references, saying a grimy adult bookstore he occasions “is no Politics and Prose.” But more often, he locks into a text he must have said so often that you sense him occasionally disconnecting from it.
Still, despite its thorough excursions into booze, rehab and relapse, the entertaining “Dangerous When Wet” must be one of the most polished one-man shows at Fringe this year.
75 minutes. July 19, 21 and 24. St. Augustine’s Church, 555 Water St. SW.
— Roger Catlin
An Unhealthy Man Lectures You on Medical Issues
Vincent Clark, a fixture at the Washington Stage Guild ever since he was a founding member more than 30 years ago, complains at the outset of his one-man Fringe act that he can’t fall back on his usual excuse of blaming the playwright for a bad show.
That’s because he wrote, produced, directed and performs “An Unhealthy Man Lectures You on Medical Issues.” “He thinks he’s Orson Welles,” a sardonic title reads after the credits.
His list of medical woes is even longer than his credits. “I am a 63-year-old, one-eyed diabetic with high blood pressure and cholesterol, three cardiac stents, an enlarged prostate, compressed vertebrae, rotting teeth, clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and severe plaque psoriasis,” he says. “And if I appear a little lopsided, it’s because I’ve had a bunch of minor strokes — which I need like a hole in the head.”
Such self-deprecating humor fuels the work, occasionally with the kind of one-liners that bring to mind Rodney Dangerfield: “When I was born, I had the postpartum depression.”
Clark sounds self-pitying only at times, though, and seems a danger to others as a bad role model only when describing life as a “noncompliant diabetic” who refuses to give up his Snickers. By the end he’s singing about the malady to the tune of “Stormy Weather”: “Don’t know why/There’s no leg beneath my thigh/Dia-a-betes.” That’s on video, but live he’s more upbeat, singing a variant of “High Hopes.”
Undercutting all his declarations of total debilitation, though, is pulling off his own mildly amusing Fringe play despite it all.
60 minutes. July 19, 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29. St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 555 Water St. SW.
— Roger Catlin
All tickets $17, plus a one-time $7 purchase of a Fringe Festival button. 866-811-4111 or capitalfringe.org