Poetic language, a magical set, and a steampunk aesthetic set the mood for the introspective Truth and Beauty Bombs: A Softer World at Rorschach Theatre. This evening of interwoven vignettes, inspired by the Canadian cult-classic webcomic, A Softer World by Emily Horne and Joey Comeau, is a meditative exploration of love, loss, and hope at the end of the world.
Though you don’t need to have been a fan of A Softer World to connect to it’s theatrical homage, it is worth noting that the comics, several of which are displayed in the immersive lobby design, do not have a central character or plot per se. Rather, each three-panel strip is a dark or humorous observation on the human condition. The five playwrights working in collaboration on this project, led by Director Jenny McConnell Frederick, were tasked with building plays based on themes and ideas from the strips to create a comprehensive evening of theater.
As a result, the production closely resembles the voice and integrity of the source material, at times quoting lines directly from the panels, which added to the tone of the play. Though the heightened and poetical language certainly added to the overall feel of the production, the plays excel when they create worlds for people living in the moments the comic artists created, rather than leaning on the ideas they conveyed. Each vignette had lengthy contemplative moments and monologues that might have rung true for fans of the comic, but occasionally slowed the momentum of an otherwise engaging production.
That said, the characters were often given a broad range of thought-provoking material to sink their teeth into (especially in Cupcakes, by Shawn Northrip and My Laundromat Eats Hope, by Alexandra Petri), and because of this, the dynamic ensemble of actors had the opportunity to exhibit depth and fortitude in their work. Standout performances included the work of the utterly charming Tori Bouten as Hope, a cross-dimension laundry machine traveler, and the bank-robbing duo of Grady Weatherford and Sarah Taurchini whose performances were funny and heartbreaking in equal measure. Robert Pike in the role of Tom, the Last Man on Earth, was also a joy to watch.
The collaboration alone on this production is admirable. This thirty-person creative team was able to create a unified vision while working on essentially, five different, and fully realized, plays. The strength of these artists is evidenced also by the cohesive and wonderfully surprising design work. Special recognition should be given to Brian J. Gillick, the set designer, and to Brian S. Allard and Mary Keegan for their excellent lighting design.
Witty, dark, and hopefully existential, Truth and Beauty Bombs: A Softer World at Rorschach Theater is a unique cross-media experiment that seeks to share insight into how we live with and love one another in end times.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 4o minutes, with no intermission.
Truth and Beauty Bombs: A Softer World plays through October 4, 2015 at Lang Theatre at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993, or purchase them online.