‘Unplugged’ at Flying V Theatre Company by Bev Fleisher

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Got 10 bucks? Meet the Flying V Theatre Company and their enchanting world premier of Unplugged. You’ve got to see it to believe it, and if you go you will have an eternal good time! Go ASAP so you’ll have time to go back with friends.

Robert Christopher Manzo and Katie Jeffries. Photo by  Craig Lawrence of Fightguy Photography.
Robert Christopher Manzo and Katie Jeffries. Photo by Craig Lawrence of Fightguy Photography.

Welcome to the 27 Club, a group of individuals who committed suicide at the age of 27. In All Apologies, you’ll delight in a halfway camp to heaven, where the “counselor” is star struck and prefers to keep the likes of Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain in her little camp rather than sending them on to the final stop.

Me and the Devil Blues illustrates the long-standing rumor that the blues musician, Robert Johnson, made a pact with the devil in the late 1920’s. Here, the Devil runs his own domain, a demented variety show version of Groundhog Day, for some special musician guests.

Thus come together two plays, All Apologies by Hunter Styles and Me and the Devil Blues by Seamus Sullivan, united in a two act ensemble work, Unplugged, directed by Jason Schlafstein. Based on its merits, this world premier at the Bethesda Writer’s Center should make its way to a bigger stage.

Particularly notable is Katie Jeffries who channels Janis in All Apologies before re-appearing in Me and The Devil’s Blues as Tamara, the Devil’s Barnard-educated do-good daughter who happens also to be the Anti-Christ. The evening is a glimpse of the afterlives of tormented musicians, whichever direction they may be sent. In All Apologies, live covers of famous songs by each of the artists makes them seem all the more real. Katie Jeffries does a mean rendition of all aspects of Janis just as Christopher Herring channels Jim Morrison. David Samuel does a fine job as Jimi and really shines in Me and the Devil Blues as Robert Johnson. In All Apologies, particularly haunting characters are those of Janice and Kurt (Josh Adams).

A groupie wanna-be, Erika (Sara Laughland), astounds with her voice as well as the rapidity with which the smarmy counselor (Allison Gibson) sends her on her way. Sound design by Kenny Neal for All Apologies is integral to understanding the characters as he makes hidden emotions palpable to the audience. Thank goodness All Apologies does not employ excess dialogue to dig into the emotional inner-afterlives of the 27 Club. The blending of dialogue, action, spirit, music and sound keeps the audience out of the muck.

Brittany Graham’s costuming is amazing. A particular wonder was the transformation of Katie Jeffries from Janis in All Apologies, into Tamara, as a Tina Fey-lookalike Anti-Christ in Me and the Devil Blues. That alone is worth the price of admission. Costume choices for Kurt enhanced his lonely, lost boy blues. And in Me and the Devil Blues, the street wear of Aaron Bliden (Robert Christopher Manzo) perfectly finishes his portrayal of the nervous nerdy nebbish who happens to be brilliant as a musician and insightful as a person.

The tone of the two plays which make up Unplugged are as different as night and day (or, in this case, Heaven and Hell). Heaven, guided by the annoyingly sweet counselor, feels, well, wispy, and etherial. It can do so without imploding because of the strong performances by all of the ensemble. Hell, guided by the Devil (Kyle Encinas), is full-out fire. The ensemble of the devil Tamara (Katie Jeffries), the 1930’s blues musician Robert Johnson (David Samuel), and band-leader Aaron Bliden (Robert Christopher Manzo) bring a bittersweet glimpse into living in a seemingly endless do-loop.

Josh Adams and David Samuel. Photo by Craig Lawrence of Fightguy Photography.
Josh Adams and David Samuel. Photo by Craig Lawrence of Fightguy Photography.

Bring an extra $10 or $20 to stuff in the donation basket at the end of the evening. You’ll feel that you got far more than your money’s worth.

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Running Time: Two hours fifteen minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Unplugged plays at Flying V Theatre Company through October 13, 2013 at the Bethesda Writer’s Center – 4805 Walsh Avenue, in Bethesda, MD. Purchase your tickets at the door, or purchase them online.