Capital Fringe 2014 Review: ‘Olizzia’

(Best of the Capital Fringe)

First-time playwright John Bavoso’s inventive and appealing script for Olizzia would make a terrific indie rom-com caper that would be a hit on the lesbian-and-gay film festival circuit.

(Left to right:) Alex Johnson (Olivia) and Stacy Mathison (Lizzie) in Olizzia at Capital Fringe 2014. Photo courtesy of Unicorn Wrangler Theatre Company.
(Left to right:) Alex Johnson (Olivia) and Stacy Mathison (Lizzie) in Olizzia at Capital Fringe 2014. Photo courtesy of Unicorn Wrangler Theatre Company.

Two ostensibly straight twenty-something young women, former college roommates, have booked separate rooms in a shitty hotel in Rio. They live in separate cities, so they take a vacation together each year—though it’s not at first clear why they would want to spend more than five minutes in each other’s company, since they bicker constantly, mainly about men.

Olivia (Alex Johnson), the nerdy one, has just broken up with her boyfriend of three years. She believes in commitment, wants a long-term relationship, and has zero interest in a fling with a hot Brazilian. Lizzie (Stacy Mathison), by contrast, is proudly promiscuous. She ridicules Olivia for spending her days in bed reading a book. Meanwhile Olivia ridicules Lizzie for jumping from cock to cock. Their tit-for-tat passive aggression gets pretty fierce, witty, and often very funny.

Not incidentally the novel Olivia is reading is about two ostensibly straight young men who fall for each other. The foreshadowing about where these two opposites-attract gal pals are headed—into a passionate romance—could not be more obvious, but that only makes how they get there all the more fascinating.

Audiences familiar with the Bechdel test will especially appreciate this play. The time the two women spend yammering about men functions counter-intuitively as queer foreplay, and the two end up talking quite revelatorily about themselves, each other, and what makes them soul mates.

There are lots of surprising plot twists, which I’ll not give away, because the show’s what’s-going-to-happen-next momentum is one of its major charms. (The two others are the bitchy badinage and the women’s eventual relationship insights.) Suffice it to say that the caper part of the story gets started when Olivia leaves Lizzie by herself in a bar and Lizzie gets picked up by a man who drug-rapes her and steals her passport.

Said perpetrator turns out to be a service employee of the hotel, a mucho bad guy named Paul (Michael Schwartz). Olivia’s and Lizzie’s comeuppance/vengeance gets a crucial assist from another hotel employee, a goodhearted front-desk clerk named Trevor (Charles Lee).

The presentation by Unicorn Wrangler Theatre Company is ably directed by Schwarz, who turns the stage space in The Shop into a credible shitty hotel room and cleverly suggests a doorway with only a plain wood frame in which a doorknob dangles. Schwarz also keeps up the play’s lively pace despite long blackouts between scenes necessitated by costume and set changes. The actors’ evident opening night unsteadiness will surely improve during the run, as will audibility as they learn the space requires more projection.

Despite this production’s shortcomings (which are easily ignored), Olizzia is definitely a play worth seeing. And Bavoso is a playwright to watch out for.

Running Time: About one hour and 15 minutes.

Olizzia plays through July 26, 2014, at The Shop at Fort Fringe – 607 New York Avenue NW, in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.

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John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.


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