Over the course of my college years, I have heard countless stories from alumni about their conflicted emotions upon returning to their alma mater. Across the board, I have found that while they are excited to return to the source of so many meaningful memories, they also feel a sense of jealousy towards current students who have so much of their lives ahead of them. The Campsite Rule beautifully captures this emotional dilemma in its opening moments, and continued to impress me until the end. Talented actors and hilarious writing made for an enjoyable event I am grateful to have experienced.
Written by Washington Post blogger and columnist Alexandra Petri and directed by Megan Behm, The Campsite Rule opens with Susan (Rachel Manteuffel) and Tina (Hazel Lozano) visiting their alma mater. After drunkenly sharing their nostalgia for the college years, Susan meets college freshman Lincoln (Matthew Sparacino), and finds herself intrigued by his dorky charm, which leads to a one-night stand. Over the course of the play, their relationship transforms into one of teacher and student as Susan attempts to educate Lincoln in the ways of intimate romance.
Petri’s script kept me in constant laughter, and the jokes and subtle references to popular culture were only the beginning. When Lincoln meets Susan, he introduces a word that he created to describe his feelings at the time, and compares the action to the use of “fetch” as a made-up word in Mean Girls. The joke was funny to those of us who have grown up on that film, but I especially appreciated how Petri used that joke to enrich Lincoln’s character. Throughout the play, Lincoln dropped subtle references to films and comic books, which Costume Designer Jesse Shipley even cleverly enhanced through the choice to attire him in superhero t-shirts. His references were amusing, but also added to the brilliant honesty of Petri’s writing.
One of my favorite aspects of a comedy is the brutal honesty that can stem from the characters. Through Lincoln’s references to popular culture, he shared his nerdy side with Susan, which allowed her to open up herself to him with similar references to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Through the comedy, they found a common ground on which to build a relationship, which made me root for their success despite the age difference. Petri even made the clever choice to include a relationship based on lies as a point of comparison.
Over the course of the play, Tina shares the details of her own relationship. The audience starts to realize that her relationship is entirely built on her reinventing herself so that the man will find her appealing. Petri’s decision to write about two problematic relationships creates an interesting conflict. While Lincoln and Susan share a drastic age difference, Tina’s relationship with a man her age presents its own issues. I found this choice fascinating, particularly in that whether the two relationships end well or poorly, the outcome can still have its down sides. For example, if Tina and her love interest end up together, this outcome only proves that lying is a valid method of building a relationship, but the other choice is heartbreak, which is problematic in its own way. Petri’s choices kept me intrigued for the entire story, and I was constantly curious to see how the relationships would transform.
Scenic Designer Ruthmarie Tenorio’s set played well to the theme of honesty, particularly in the choices for Lincoln and Susan’s bedrooms. While Lincoln’s dorm room included a Lord of the Rings poster, Susan’s apartment showcased her old book and board game collections. Tenorio highlighted the quirky qualities of both characters that they were unafraid to share with each other, which cleverly complimented Petri’s script.
I was pleased to find that the actors created characters that when combined with the writing, pushed the show over the top. Lozrano and Manteuffel created opposite characters in Tina and Susan that reflected the success of their romantic relationships at any given point in the play. At the beginning, Lozrano is hopeful about her life post graduation, while Manteuffel misses her freshman days. However, as their relationships change in very different ways, the characters attitudes swap. Manteuffel portrayed a sense of excitement while Lozrano adopts a perpetual unhappiness, and I found those choices interesting to watch over the course of the play.
Sparacino was hilarious in his portrayal of Lincoln. He created an awkward and dorky character that was impossible not to love, particularly through his monologues. Throughout the story, Sparacino would enter an argument with himself as he tried to figure out how to approach a new situation with Susan, whether it was finding a condom, or deciding whether or not to approach her in public. I believed every emotion that he exhibited, which only helped me root for his success with Susan. Sparacino and Manteuffel shared a chemistry that made their relationship feel real, and I loved every interaction they shared.
Honesty, comedy, and impressive talent, The Campsite Rule is a blast from start to finish. The hard relationships and realistic emotions of alumni looking back make the show relatable to a wide variety of audiences, and based on the strong reactions of the audience surrounding me last night, I think others would agree.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
The Campsite Rule plays through August 16, 2014 at 8 PM at Anacostia Playhouse – 2020 Shannon Place SE, in Washington DC. For tickets, purchase them online.