It is New Year’s Eve, 2015, and seven high school seniors have gathered at the home of the twins, Nicole (Skye Lindberg) and August (Zachary Wilcox). There’s Maisy (Catherine Anne Gilbert), quiet, weird, and earnest in that way that needs protecting. Stephanie (an exceptional Gracie Eda Baker), who seems older, and funnier, than the rest, and is only waiting for everyone else to catch up with her. There’s the too-smart Twix (Justin Sumblin), another kind of earnestness, also in need of protection, because it trusts too much in facts when dealing with the messy irrationality of people and their lives. Steven (Dylan Hares) is the charming cute one, who needs sheltered from his own decisions (he’s always getting attacked by birds, however, which might be an example of the arc of the universe bending towards justice). And Cat (Christine O. Wells), the one burdened with empathy.
We spend seven New Year’s Eves with this group of friends, watching them take strong steps forward, and then almost just as quickly watch them walk smack dab into a mistake, or an unexpected aspect of adulthood they weren’t prepared for. “Each year, I just watched us all break, piece by piece,” Maisy says at one point. Maisy can’t make sense of her future. Nicole can’t make sense of herself. Cat can’t figure out August. And Steven doesn’t understand turtles.
Andrew Reid’s We Found the Wild Things, now at the DC Arts Center in Adams Morgan, is a nostalgia play, and nostalgia is very enticing, both for writers and the rest of us. Nostalgia says, “Spend some time with me and I’ll make the You of right now make sense.” We turn to nostalgia because there’s a sense that we’ve lost something about ourselves in our past, and it needs finding. “Remember me?” Nostalgia says. “I’m Nostalgia, and I’ve kept all your lost loves and lost dreams and lost hopes, and somewhere deeper within is that piece of yourself you think you need to be whole right now. Nothing bad happens in a labyrinth. Come in.”
There are moments where Wild Things feels like a call-and-response to the 1983 film The Big Chill – another memory script and also the progenitor of every romantic slow dance your parents ever had in a kitchen ever. (Sometimes The Big Chill is Reality Bites and sometimes it’s Singles and one time it was I Know What You Did Last Summer but that was the late 1990s and everything was weird.) Each of the characters is a catalyst for someone else – which can sometimes make the script feel a little formulaic in its attempt to get all the epiphanies in place. But the actors are so good at making the world feel solid and real and lived in, those weak epiphanies are fine to overlook.
Reid is interested in relationships – both between friends and with the individual — and his script, though young in places, offers a rich opportunity for this very strong and talented cast, confidently directed by Rebecca Wahls. They have an ease and camaraderie with each other that feels honest and earned. (Especially Baker and Hares, who never seem to be acting so much as inhabiting. Baker, in particular, tells a story about the loneliness of the moon that is poignant and heartbreaking, a testament both to Reid’s writing and Baker’s understanding of what that monologue means, both to Stephanie and to Nicole, to whom she is telling the story.)
If the play – consciously or not – is a conversation with The Big Chill, it’s a conversation that is filtered through Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. The “Wild Things” of Reid’s play are the wild things a boy named Max meets on an unnamed island some place between your last mistake and your first freedom. Max’s crown is a recurring motif and a symbol of connection among them. But are the Wild Things ever truly found? I don’t think, ultimately, that’s the right question any of us should be asking.
Who What Where Theater Collective is new to the DC theater scene – and it’s exciting to see such a strong first effort by a group of hungry performers. The talent on display bodes well for future endeavors from this company; they’re definitely one to be on the watch for.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
We Found the Wild Things plays through July 16, 2017, at Who What Where Theater Collective performing at the DC Arts Center – 2438 18th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.