Summer is theater festival season in DC and first up is CulturalDC’s Source Festival, now in its seventh year. Each year the festival is built around 3 themes which are each support by a full length play, six 10-minute plays, and an artistic blind date. This year’s Source Festival, with the three themes of Mortality, Revenge, and Quests, is well on its way.
A Bid to Save the World, by Erin Bregman, is the full-length play that anchors the ‘Mortality’ theme. Through what seems like several disconnected stories (be patient, they are all more connected than you think!), it takes a look at what death is, how it affects us, and what a living means in a world without death.
The show opens with a heartbreaking performance by Anna Lynch as a sister who is mourning the death of her brother, Jacob (Shane O’Loughlin) and amidst the haunting singing of the ensemble cast, wishes that, “No one should ever die again.”
What follows is a collection of stories set in this new world without death. There is the story of two high school students living in a world where no one has died for so long, that people have forgotten even the methods of death. Evelyn (Natasha Gallop) and Adam (Rafael Sebastian) are researching methods of death in hopes that they can bring it back again. They begin their research in a library, that records deaths on index cards (like in the old library catalog cards), which can be viewed as still pictures or video style. Working in the library, we meet the librarian, Ida (Kimberlee Wolfson) who hums a strange song. Ida’s assistant James (Matthew Rubbelke), who is afraid of change and is choosing his job cataloging the library catalog cards, rather than go to college, hears Ida humming and can’t forget the melody.
Next, we meet a pair of sisters, Lydia (Audrey Bertaux) and Rachel (Rachel Viele). Lydia is determined to get Rachel to start cleaning up after herself in their shared living space and is convinced that this will somehow lead to world peace. Lydia meets Jacob on a street corner and is so entranced by his voice and the song he sings that she can’t bear to leave him, so she brings him home with her.
In the next story, we meet Death (Kimberlee Wolfson), who peels and eats oranges (represents who and what we are) while bargaining with the dead and lost for stories. Death meets Jacob, and “the sister” and gets each of them to tell her a story.
In the last story, we meet a rich man, John Jacob O’Reilly Smitherton (Steve Lichtenstein) who wants his assistant, Karen (Allyson Harkey) to help him buy world peace.
As I said earlier, if you are patient, and you see the story through, you will learn that each of these seemingly disconnected stories are, in fact, strung together by a small thread of commonality and coincidence. You begin to see that death is in plain sight, you see that despair and heartache has driven someone to the brink, and in order to restore normality (mortality) to the world, this person needs to come to terms with his/her loss.
The music, under the direction of Jon Jon Johnson is eerily beautiful, and one of my favorite elements of the show. Lynch is fantastic as the heartbroken sister. She lays her pain bare on that small stage for the entire audience to see and to feel. O’Loghlin is perfectly cast in a role that highlights his beautifully smooth singing voice. Wolfson’s slightly demented Death had me shivering in fear, especially when she sat down next to me on the risers to listen to Lynch’s story.
There are some places in the plot that I wished Bregman would do a little more exploration or explanation, but the beautiful singing, deeply personal, poignant, and sometimes witty lyrics, and some stellar performances by the cast makes A Bid to Save the World definitely a show to check out.
Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, with no intermission.