Reporting from The Page-to-Stage Festival: ‘Toast Incubator Series’ and ‘Doubting Thomas’ by Jessica Vaughan

toast at dog & pony show DC

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dog & pony show DC is an ensemble theater company that devises shows instead of writing them and tackles a huge range of genres. They focus especially on new ways of experiencing theater for the audience.  Last season they had a couple of big successes in the area with A Killing Game and Beertown.

toast, the play they workshopped at Page-to-Stage, is still almost six months from production and I am very curious to see what final form it will take. It’s impossible to tell from the workshop, but that is only because when company member Jon Reynolds said they want to create the piece with the audience, they meant it.  This was very much an incubator.

The show began with an entertaining TED-like half hour of the history of Western civilization’s science and art from Euclid to Einstein and Grecian urns to cubism. With toast, they want to explore innovation and discovery, especially at the intersection of traditional creative arts and science…culminating in the toasting of bread. After the brief tour through history with two company members acting out the drama as three others read, they focused down on the last few minutes of the play and Einstein’s theory of relativity, which, unlike Euclid’s right angles and even Picasso’s warped perspectives, is almost impossible to dramatize

I know this because they then broke the audience up into four groups and tasked us with explaining the theory of relativity through drama with various constraints like not being able to use the stage for one group or any words for another. The company members led each group and they are all experienced facilitators and dedicated to dog & pony DC’s unspoken mission to ensure the audience is having fun and is never made fun of. That made it completely safe and enjoyable, if a bit strange, to come to a show and create and act in it ourselves. The final skits were funny, diverse, and the best, most inspiring science class I’ve ever been to.

I will definitely be in the seats for toast when it reaches its final form next year, if only to see how they finally do try to explain what the world looks like at the speed of light.

dog & pony DC will be holding another incubator salon on August 14, 2013 at 1:30 PM at Arena Stage – 1101 6th Street. SW, in Washington, DC.

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 Doubting Thomas by Mario Baldessari

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Local theater company Crash of Rhinos is set to become the theater company in residence at the National Conservatory of Dramatic arts in January. They’ve been busy with films most recently, participating in the DC and Baltimore 48 Hour Film Project and of course, taking two works in progress to Page-to-Stage.

Mario Baldessari.

Mario Baldessari.

Doubting Thomas by Mario Baldessari is comedy about belief, dying well, and meeting Thomas Aquinas. In a completely packed room, Director Lee Mikeska Gardner created a fast-paced and polished reading of the play when it could have just been a few people standing at music stands and reading. We still probably would have laughed really hard. Doug Wilder, Steven Soto, and Jim Helein all play characters named Tom. Wilder’s Tom is dying of cancer, Helein’s Tom is a 700-year-old incorporeal Saint who’s philosophical meanderings still have me thinking, and Soto’s Tom is a faith healer in Mexico that Tom’s ex-boyfriend Jesse (played by playwright Mario Baldessari) gets healing from and tries to get Tom to go see as well. Tom’s sister Ann and Mother (Liz Dutton and Caren Anton) are excellent foils in his journey towards healing and/or death, and Maggie Erwin completes the cast as the faith healer’s assistant Number 8.

Lee Mikeska Gardner.

Lee Mikeska Gardner.

Baldessari announced at the end, “I have some cutting to do;” it did need a bit of focus, but he’s going to have a difficult time puzzling out what to cut, because every scene was an interesting mix of comedy, philosophy, and tragedy that was sometimes quite riveting. In a play about death and belief, the key bus station moment between the Toms was handled brilliantly – amusing and enlightening – which was such a relief because a play about faith can become so easily preachy or saccharine and this was neither. These are funny, memorable characters and big themes, the kind of thing when they’re full realized that will make for an impactful and important piece of theater. LINKSReporting from The Page-to-Stage Festival: The Good Devil, In Spite of Himself and Aural Sex by John Stoltenberg.

Reporting from The Page-to-Stage Festival: The Law of Return by Alison Drucker.

The Schedule for the 2013 Page-to-Stage Festival.

 

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