Yesterday’s reviews documented three men at work in the ongoing Capital Fringe Festival in Southwest D.C.; today’s slate is mainly women. Celia Wren, Michael Gaynor and Cassandra Miller report on the latest from the three week performance smorgasbord.
‘A Two Woman Hamlet’
Conscience does make cowards of us all — the exceptions apparently being Hannah Sweet, Nicola Collett and Mara Sherman, the ingenious and exuberant actors and director responsible for “A Two Woman Hamlet.” These artists could have quailed at the complexity and potential awkwardness of staging Shakespeare’s most famous play as an 80-minute two-hander, but they didn’t. And the Fringe is the more enjoyably antic because of their fun romp.
Dressed in white shirts and blue trousers, Sweet and Collett play all the characters, slinging on and off various distinguishing accessories (a shawl for Gertrude, a stick-on heraldic crest for Claudius, etc.) and moving through the action lickety-split. Director Sherman’s production delivers relatively clear storytelling (audiences with a working knowledge of “Hamlet” may enjoy the show more), while simultaneously seeming to revel in the drollness of, for instance, Collett performing the climactic sword fight by herself, because she plays both Hamlet and Laertes. (Carl Brandt Long is the fight choreographer.)
Other highlights include Sweet’s hilarious impersonation of the irreverent Gravedigger, and the abrupt appearances by the Ghost, who ventriloquizes through the characters who see him, even as they flinch at the sound of his voice. As for the title character, the boyishness of Collett’s Hamlet modulates affectingly to quiet intensity when the prince waxes philosophic.
With the exception of the first scene (featuring flashlights), the house lights stay up throughout, making the ad hoc performance space — a room at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church — part of the experience. The choice may be a nod to staging practices of Shakespeare’s day, as the tongue-in-cheek note in the playbill suggests. But it also seems to suit a production whose approach is all about turning limits into opportunity.
80 minutes. July 22, 25 and 28 at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 555 Water St. SW.
— Celia Wren
At the head of a cramped room inside St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church is a queen-size bed — not on a stage, just resting on the floor, only feet away from the front row. It’s a setup that seems practically designed to enforce intimacy and awkwardness — in a church, no less! — and that’s exactly what’s in store for the audience watching Kate Robards’s one-woman “PolySHAMory.”
Robards’s play is a retelling of her disastrous foray into the world of polygamy — a hilarious, often heartbreaking saga of duplicitous spouses, sex-positive therapists, underground hookup clubs and a protagonist who can’t help but have second thoughts about it all. There is frank and frequently dirty sex talk, but it’s never played for cheap titillation. You always get the sense that there is a real, reflective woman at the center of things, mostly because she’s standing right in front of you.
The play opens with a sort of standup comedy routine by Robards — microphone and all — and continues to veer between that and a more traditional theater monologue. With Robards’s frequent asides to the audience, “PolySHAMory” never quite settles on a distinct format, which helps establish a rapport with the crowd but can sometimes feel off-balance when swapping to the more theatrical, acted-out segments.
The plotline, likewise, does some meandering and seems to skip over a few story beats worth exploring in more depth. But overall, Robards’s first-person tale tells a remarkably cohesive narrative, with thoughtful, emotional lessons and powerful finale.
75 minutes. July 21, 25, 27 and 28 at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 555 Water St. SW.
— Michael Gaynor
‘God Is Dead and April‘s Getting Married‘
In “God is Dead and April’s Getting Married,” everyone is gay, but most are repressing their sexuality. The three-person play is a love triangle told through flashbacks of the 23-year-olds’ senior year of high school, when April was involved with both Elliott and El.
“April Getting Married” opens with a long dialogue-less scene when Elliott and El react to getting a save-the-date for April’s wedding, their former flame who neither has seen or talked to in five years. Director Jess Phillips chooses to show rather than tell with no-dialogue scenes a few times in the play, which would work well on screen, but the makeshift theater space in a small meeting room at Arena Stage where “April Getting Married” is performed doesn’t offer great sightlines to enjoy these scenes.
The three young actors — Lauren Farnell as April, Colton Needles as Elliot and Anna Shafer as El — have solid stage presence, and playwright A.A. Brenner has given April and El, in particular, some fun lines to deliver. When April realizes she has feelings for El, she says, “I can’t think straight.” It’s cute, and matches the youthfulness of the production. This is a world inhabited and created by young adults, whose concerns include which top-tier college they will go to, who’s deleted their Facebook account and whether a woman can wear a suit to a wedding.
The characters dance around queerness, but El is the only one who owns her sexuality. The others have a long way to go in their self-awareness journeys, which is apparent in the final wedding scenes of the not-quite-developed show.
60 minutes. July 21, 22, 28 and 29 at Arena Stage’s Violet Stage, 1101 6th St. SW.
— Cassandra Miller
All tickets $17, plus a one-time $7 purchase of a Fringe Festival button. 866-811-4111 or capitalfringe.org