The Klunch, a newly formed theater company launched by Ian Allen, former artistic director of Cherry Red Productions, inaugurated its first season with the DC premiere of George is Dead, a mordantly funny one-act play by a legendary comic and writer. Elaine May beams her satirical wit through two women connected by a common past but sharply separated by class, money, and attitude.
Carla, played with appropriate understatement by Fiona Blackshaw, curls up on her modest living room couch frantically trying to reach her husband to apologize and profess her love after missing his important speech at Amnesty International. In the midst of her crisis, she’s interrupted by an unexpected visitor– the insanely privileged, wealthy Doreen (a terrifically preening Kerri Rambow) – who has just learned of her husband’s death on Aspen’s ski trails. Why reach out to Carla who she hasn’t seen in years? Mostly because her mother was once Doreen’s nanny, and that long-ago relationship is the closest emotional tie Doreen can manage.
Feigning gratitude for her hopelessly accommodating hostess, Doreen misses no opportunity to remind Carla of her shabbier circumstances. The new widow is not without self-awareness, however. She readily admits that she doesn’t have the depth to face this crisis and while already strategizing about how much botox it will take to attract a new mate at her age.
John Tweel’s brief but energetic scene as Carla’s fulminating husband Michael reveals the depth of their marital discord. Carla’s embrace of her now 90-year-old mother and her needy brother has sapped all the strength from the marriage as he simultaneously deals with a creeping realization that his life as a history teacher and political activist is doomed by students who sit in class texting each other and are uninterested in anything that happened before they were born.
Jean Miller as the nearly spectral Nanny has a brief but important role that recalls her earlier relationship with Doreen. Tom Neubauer, Alex Diaz-Ferguson and Mark Osele round out the excellent cast of The Klunch’s new production.
Director Ian Allen moves the action steadily through an evening and morning to a forceful, staccato conclusion. He has his work cut out for him: how to make what is primarily a dialog between two women consistently interesting when one of them readily admits that she barely listens, and the other holds her reactions firmly in check.
David Ghatan’s set combines seamlessly with the small theater – one or two steps forward from the front row and you could be part of the action, seated on the comfy brocaded couch, enveloped in the cushy matching armchair encircled with plump throw pillows that Doreen, in one of her not-so-subtle put-downs, casually mentions are not so chic. The intimacy and simplicity of the set plunges the audience squarely into the action – which heightens both the hilarity and discomfort.
Costumes by Rhonda Key and Jennifer Tardiff Beal amplify the deep gulf between Carla, clad in shapeless sweats, and Doreen, who arrives from a gala fund-raising swathed in fur, adorned with spiky jewels and poured into an obviously expensive dress.
Audiences may vary greatly in their reactions to the final scene, but there’s no doubt that this production, and The Klunch itself, are welcome additions to the DC theater scene.
George is Dead plays through December 19, 2015 at The Klunch performing at The DC Arts Center (DCAC) – 2438 18th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, buy them at the box office 30 minutes before the performance, or purchase them online.
Meet the Cast of ‘George is Dead’ at The Klunch: Part 1: John Tweel.
Meet the Cast of ‘George is Dead’ at The Klunch: Part 2: Fiona Blackshaw.
Meet the Cast of ‘George is Dead’ at The Klunch: Part 3: Kerri Rambow.