Think commissioned plays are a thing of the Elizabethan past?
Nu Sass Productions’ 22 Boom! is concierge theater at its nimblest. Written by Miranda Rose Hall and directed by Renana Fox, this imaginative exercise is “an avalanche of manic, miniature plays” – 23, the magic number, each about three minutes long.
Eight energetic actors zig and zag through scenes, exchanging costumes and props trunk-style. It masquerades as improv but is actually a compilation of 22 previously speed-produced works, plus one very special premiere, for which Fringe patrons act as muses. At each Fringe performance, a different resident playwright sits in the lobby like a short-order cook, interviewing audience members. Near the end of the 70-minute show, a fresh-from-the-oven play is served “cold” – that is, a cold reading that’s pipin’-hot. (Appropriately, on opening night, the original play by Rebecca Dzida, titled “Thanks, Obama,” was about the oppressive heat and climate change.)
This is a must-see for anyone who rejoices in the collaborative process of theater. It showcases the lightning linguistic talents of Ms. Hall – whose paucity of prose ranges from farcical to profound – and her team of on-the-spot scribes. But it also teaches that a script often merely outlines ingredients and lights a fuse. It takes the alchemy of a receptive, interactive audience; committed actors; and a slick production team to add that secret sauce and turn on the gas. (On opening night, the stage crew’s improvisation skills were on fire overcoming sound and lighting problems.)
22 Boom! opens with the narrator/playwright (Tori Boutin) on a desperate mission to create art, but she needs a little help from her friends – perhaps special glasses – to interpret the world’s wonders. Each play is introduced with Boutin re-enacting the “audience submission” event as actors stand in for contributors. Boutin names the play then shadows the players as it unfolds, voicing those descriptive parenthetical directions in a script that actors follow. Most plays end happily and a bell rings, and we move on to the next gleeful round.
Leading a gifted cast is Ben Lauer, whose easy knack for character and comedy knocked the audience’s socks off. He morphed from a self-obsessed late-Middle Ages Italian aristocrat to punchy Mario of the Mario Brothers, a fussy toddler and a Nordic mystery detective, among other hits. In one hilarious scene, in play No. 14, about a young girl going to Europe, a “Greek” chorus representing different countries drown each other out in a melee of accents: Lauer lathers on a delightful brogue — and count on at least one Brexit gag.
Other “wow” factors: John Stange and Aubri O’Connor, both undisputed masters of their craft. The entire cast, though, is golden: Dannielle Hutchinson kills it as a psycho girlfriend, Mary Poppins and a “golden girl”; Darnell Eaton especially shines playing a Dalmatian (twice!); Lily Kerrigan delivers precious nuanced moments; and Cate Brewer, in Play No. 13, “What I Did With My Go Pass,” poignantly sums up the Point of It All.
Or maybe that happens in Play No. 8, “Lacrosse,” with the line: “This is incredible. This is theater!” Preach.
Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.
22 Boom! plays through July 24, 2016, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts: Performance Space, 1250 New York Avenue NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at call (866) 811-4111, or order them online.
Read the preview of ’22 Boom!’
RATING: BEST OF THE 2016 CAPITAL FRINGE!