The Edge of the Universe Players 2‘s workshop production of Young Jean Lee’s Pullman, WA was an evening that defies easy categorization. It was charming one moment, annoying the next. It was a traditional passive audience theater experience much of the time, then “POW!” an audience member was selected, seemingly quite out of random, to be verbally harangued as part of the performance.
As directed by veteran Michael Chamberlin, Pullman, WA is a play that purposely wanders restlessly, then sticks a landing with arms up in jubilation. I was smitten and charmed with this fascinating early work from OBIE Award-winning playwright Young Jean Lee that has three characters who try to be “helpers” to guide the audience into a better life. Then, of course, as all to often happens in real life – things fall apart as the characters begin to “fight and melt down” right before the audience – all in a 60-minute, intermissionless roller-coaster ride.
So what is Pullman, WA about? Well, the evening begins with a bright welcome from the first of the three helpers. She was the gamin, sneaker-wearing, rolled-up sleeves,Tia Shearer. She tried to explain through both words and cute images made with a thick black marker that she truly wanted to people live a better life. Over about 20 minutes or so, Shearer was a charmer full of warm sincere smiles. She moved smoothly like a figure skater, and at times fell softly, inside a circle of 40 or so chairs. She was just such a chipper speaker as if was being scored for her presentation by higher-ups hidden away somewhere. She seems to need nods of agreement from the audience. But, over time, well, something doesn’t quite seem right. And she became just so unctuous.
Then another helper lifted herself from one of the 40 chairs. It was Jenna Rossman. She was sharply and colorfully attired wearing up-to-date feminine boots. She began to attack not only the views just expressed by and the character Shearer was playing. As a “helper” Rossman spoke with childhood, if not child-like, descriptions of sweet happy birthday parties, mystical unicorns, and of beautiful mermaids along with some made-up words spoken brightly. Rossman used a lovely umbrella as a prop; an umbrella with a lighting effect that along with a string of colorful Christmas lights. She was all bright sugar and spice. But then she was more stinging and made accusations not just aimed at “helper” Shearer but some unlucky soul in the audience. (I was one the night I was there).
After the unsettling time listening or being scolded by Rossman, in came Drew Kopas. His appearance came on shoes with wheels;quite an appearance he made indeed. He offered a third way to live a better life. It was to accept Jesus and be saved. He was a happy warrior for religion -at times holding his arms up pointing to Heaven. Just accept and all will be so much instantly better. As he spun about the floor, Kopas was melodiously powerful, and less comic than the other two “helpers” as he made his case for religion to be the answer to any audience member issues about failngs and failures. Just get happy.
This imaginative workshop from The Edge of the Universe Players 2 was a dandy one. If you are not aware of The Edge of the Universe Players 2 their mission is put this way:
We love plays with big meanings that transcend particular ages and cultures. And we hope that cultural influences, including theatre, can change some part of the human family—or even one person—toward a more bearable, insightful, hopeful, or self-determining state. The subjects of our plays may include individual liberty, family, power, religion, death, or other fundamental issues of human existence.
Certainly this early script by Young Jean Lee seems without a mainstream plot. But, Pullman, WA left me with plenty to enjoy and chew on as I bounded into the DC early autumn night. I was quite happy to think about something beyond the recent election. Young Jean Lee’s attention-worthy Pullman, WA with its torrent of wordplay and interactions did that for me even if I was puzzled aplenty.
And for this workshop production, technical design included an appropriately minimalist set design by April Joy Vester, spiffy lighting by Rob Siler, and sound by Reid May.
So know that there are only two more workshop performances of the refreshing if strange, Pullman, WA. Get yourself ready for an experimental workshop in which one of the aforementioned “helpers” says this:
I have never felt like I was me. There was always something wrong with who I was so that I was always thinking of myself as some future-existing person, someone who is like an outline of someone.
Yup, I got that without any trouble at all. Now how to fix that, I have not a clue.
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
Pullman, WA has two remaining readings on Saturday, November 19th at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, November 20, 2016, at 7:30 p.m. at Melton Rehearsal Hall at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company – 641 D Street NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 355-6330, or purchase them online.
‘Getting to Know The Edge of the Universe Players 2’s ‘Pullman, WA’ 11/13-20 at Woolly Mammoth by Bill Goodman on DCMetroTheaterArts.
‘Straight White Men’ by Young Jean Lee at The Studio Theatre by Robert Michael Oliver in his column ‘Spine.’
‘Straight White Men’ at The Studio Theatre reviewed by David Siegel.
‘Straight White Men’ at The Studio Theatre reviewed by Amy Kotkin. (Coming).
Magic Time! Straight White Men’ at The Studio Theatre by John Stoltenberg. (Coming).