Still charting the new network of Capital Fringe Festival venues in Northeast D.C., Peggy McGlone and Nelson Pressley trek to rough-edged bars and polished theaters for poetic fantasies and three topical acts on race.
"Power! Stokely Carmichael"
Meshaun Labrone’s solo show about the Black Power advocate packed Gallaudet University’s Eastman Studio Theatre Saturday evening, and it may be an early festival hit. The crowd was primed for Carmichael’s firebrand resistance, and Labrone delivers.
Labrone enters looking like the 1960s Carmichael, sporting a dark suit and skinny tie. Directly addressing the audience, Labrone’s Carmichael explains his loyalty to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. but his impatience with non-violence – a lousy way, he reasons, to claim freedom given the viciousness heaped on blacks by whites. Carmichael describes some of it himself, but Labrone also plays other characters whose travails and testimonies add to the ongoing outrage.
Director Jennifer Knight adds projections that range from harrowing old lynching photos to Civil Rights footage, all too easily cutting in images of well-known killings from the past two years. This is the most polished and timeliest show I’ve caught so far, anchored by Labrone’s composure, anger and passionate persuasion.
“Power! Stokely Carmichael,” July 15, 19, 23 and 25 at Gallaudet University’s Eastman Studio Theatre, 800 Florida Ave. NE.
“No AIDS No Maids: Stories I Can’t F---in’ Hear No More”
Actor and teacher Dee Dee Batteast explores the plight of minority actors in American theater in this grimly funny 45-minute presentation that fits nicely in the intimate Tree House space.
Batteast knows from experience about the limited roles available to female African American actors, and she carefully and effectively extends these stereotypes to her gay male actor colleagues. She is at her best when bringing her audience into the audition room or classroom to hear firsthand the effects of discrimination. Recreating her tryout for a role as a best buddy, she makes the audience squirm as the casting agent pushes her toward the stereotypical “sassy” character.
Working on a small but brightly lit stage, Batteast is friendly and funny as she asks her audience to become co-conspirators in her theatrical rebellion. The small space suits the raw, conversational production, which Batteast described as a work-in-progress during the Q&A that ends her hour.
“No AIDS No Maids: Stories I Can’t F--kin’ Hear No More,” performances July 15, 18, 24 and 26 at Tree House Lounge, 1006 Florida Ave. NE.
“The Great Awkward Hope”
Jeff Reiser’s play at W.S. Jenks & Son is like a Judd Apatow project: Reiser plays a harmless dweeb named Jeff who wants to write a play about boxer Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champ. (You may recall another play on that subject.) Jeff wants to contribute to the conversation on race. But he doesn’t want to be racist. In fact, he says his play will focus on how Jack Johnson invented the adjustable wrench.
This is funny: you can imagine Jason Schwartzman and Seth Rogen swapping a lot of this deliberately idiotic dialogue as the white guy ties himself in knots trying not to offend. But the show itself is barely put together: the actors struggle with the lines, and between each brief scene the ungainly transitions are interminable.
“The Great Awkward Hope,” performances July 12, 15 and 18 at W.S. Jenks & Son, 910 Bladensburg Rd. NE.
“Our Lady of the Clouds”
How do you answer the question “Where are you from?” if the country of your birth no longer exists? Why do you pine for the past when you know it wasn’t perfect? These and other queries about identity, memory and cultural history form the heart of “Our Lady of the Clouds,” an experimental work by Argentinian playwright Aristides Vargas.
Oscar (Edward C. Nagel) and Bruna (Liz Dutton) are exiles from an unnamed Latin American country who discover a shared past in a series of vignettes. The pair delivers the stories of their country’s origin, political corruption and cultural traditions, told in Vargas’s richly poetic prose.
Nagel and Dutton are flawless in this intentionally stylized production. The actors embrace both the play’s fantastical magic realism and its socially relevant commentary on police brutality and political chicanery. Guided by director Stevie Zimmerman’s sure hand, the actors find humor and outrage in an experimental production that showcases the best of the Fringe’s mission.
“Our Lady of the Clouds,” performances July 17, 19 and 25 at Lab II at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE.
Monica Dionysiou riffs on “Alice in Wonderland” in her solo “Paper Glass” at The Argonaut, the nautically themed pub in the triangular building where H Street NE meets Maryland Avenue. The tight stage is in the cozy bar upstairs; Dionysiou barely has space to turn around as she plays an imaginative 10-year-old girl up against the rules.
Some of this spare text is true to Lewis Carroll, but the business Dionysiou devises is fresh. She scrawls instructional sentences on long sheets of paper (which she also uses to act in silhouette), and a clever sound design adds voiceovers and train sounds as the girl travels. There’s a nice relevant point about helping girls grown and learn, and if the offbeat, rhythmic, often non-verbal show sometimes unfolds slowly, it captures your attention anyway thanks to Dionysiou’s poise and smarts.
“Paper Glass,” performances July 12, 15, 18 and 19 at The Argonaut, 1433 H St. NE
“Awake All Night”
In an amusing twist on the “boy meets girl” premise, “Awake All Night” focuses on the love story of Greek god, Hermes, who is smitten by college student Ariadne. Unfortunately, Ariadne is more obsessed with a potential fashion career than she is by her godly boyfriend. The two sort it out during an overnight phone call.
Writer/director Itai Yasur, a D.C. based musician, pokes fun at Greek mythology and musical theater conventions in this one-hour show featuring songs and monologues of rhyming verse. Garrett Matthews’s lovely voice and playful spirit give Hermes a human side, while Bailey Drew Lehfeldt brings an authentic impatience to Ariadne’s teenage point of view.
Samantha Hegre’s cello adds warmth and texture to Yasur’s piano, but the musicians sometimes overwhelm the actors in this small Brookland studio. And since the two characters don’t physically interact – they are supposed to be talking by phone – and both actors seem reliant on scripts and scores, it might have worked better to present this new work as a reading, and focus the attention where it belongs: on Yasur’s soaring music and inventive concept.
"Awake All Night," performances July 12, 18, 22 and 25 at Brookline Artspace Lofts Studio, Dance Place, 3305 8th St. NE
IF YOU GO:
Fringe tickets $17, plus one-time purchase of $7 Fringe Button. Available online at www.capitalfringe.org, by phone at 866-811-4111, and at the Fringe Festival box office, 1300 H Street NE (Tuesdays-Fridays 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays-Sundays 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.)