Review: ‘That Part Is True’ at Rabble Crew Productions

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Wouldn’t it be fun to be a young urban radical and cohabit with other young revolutionaries—in a cheap walk-up apartment that you all share—eating fast food, having polyamorous sex, doing recreational drugs—in between planning direct actions that will tear down oppressive systems like for sure, you know? Wouldn’t that just be a blast? to hang out with your closest chums in a woke cell of resistance? At home with the rads. What could go wrong, right?

If that setup at all tickles you, you’re in a mood to appreciate the comedic shenanigans and dark plot twists that Playwright/Director Madeline Farrington’s That Part Is True has in store.

Mabelle Nung Fomundam (Kate), Kathleen Vaughn Crosby (Tiffany), LJ Moses (Jordan), and Tim Trueheart (Mick) in That Part Is True. Photo by Emily Canavan.

There are four wannabe revolutionaries in the house and they are a delightfully motley bunch. Kate (Mabelle Nung Fomundam), the one with some money, is a hothead, fuming and screaming over just about everything. Her sometime lover Tiffany (Kathleen Vaughn Crosby) is a cooler head. Her other sometime lover Mick (Tim Trueheart) is a laconic mooch. And Jordan, the fourth roomie (LJ Moses), is a bit of an enigma, also apparently Mick’s other sometime lover.

They call their sparse yet cluttered crib Safe House. True to the esthetic of a Fringe show, Sound and Light Designer Dujuan Pritchett has given the playing space a simple urban ambiance (including a hint of the snowmageddon going on outside) and Art Director Michael Barczynski has dressed the set with agit-prop graphics (“Direct Action for the Win”).

Besides these digs, the activists share a history that includes the Occupy movement in DC. And interestingly, as funny as the offbeat character-driven humor sometimes is, their politics and principles are never butts of the joke. Even when the characters are being their most divertingly dysfunctional, the playwright keeps their convictions sincere. I take this neat trick to be faithful to the actual history of the producing theater company, Rabble Crew Productions, which, according to a program note,

was founded in the wake of Occupy DC’s eviction from McPherson Square when Kelly Canavan [aka Madeline Farrington] worked with other Occupyers to produce her first show, McPherson Madness, in the 2013 Fringe Festival…. Rabble Crew continues to grow as a theater collective catering to those of us lurking along the road less traveled.

LJ Moses (Jordan), Mabelle Nung Fomundam (Kate), Kathleen Vaughn Crosby (Tiffany), and Tim Trueheart (Mick) in That Part Is True. Photo by Emily Canavan.

Two of the four roles in That Part Is True turn out to be parts that are fake. They are not who they seem—and the unraveling that results as their backstories are revealed is what drives an offbeat plotline that ends with a macabre shocker.

The play’s structure seems looser and more ambling than what might be expected to support the play’s aspiration to gravitas. A promo text on the web gives the gist of it:

That Part Is True explores the ways that marginalized people—specifically men and women of color and queer folks—are betrayed and endangered by the institution of policing and other authoritarian political institutions against which they are organizing. This conflict is reflected in the breakdown of the relationships between characters when they experience a loss of trust that endangers and hurts them.

In performance, that’s not really what comes through. Far more vivid than that earnest political critique is the quirky quartet of characters. Though they might be wingnuts in the real world, we quite come to enjoy their company on stage. The acting style often feels like awkwardly random behavior, with seemingly nonsequitur emotive leaps and discrepant pacing, and occasional dead zones when nothing much is happening. But curiously the effect is disarmingly charming. The whole cast embodies a kind of unstudied realness that makes the characters’ idiosyncrasies all the more interesting and their intertwined stories all the more engaging.

Activists do strange things in their zeal—as anyone who has been around them knows and as Madeline Farrington obviously knows well. Her dark comedy That Part Is True is both a human-comedy treat and a hat-tip tribute to the youth who energize the real resistance.

Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes, with no intermission.

That Part Is True presented by Rabble Crew Productions had its world premiere at the Atlas Intersections Festival February 24 and March 3, 2018 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center- 1333 H Street NE in Washington, DC.

 

There will be three extended-run shows March 16 to 18, 2018, at the Logan Performing Arts Space at the Fringe Trinidad Theater- 1358 Florida Avenue NE, Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased online

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Preview: ‘That Part is True’ at Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival by Guest Author

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John Stoltenberg
Among the hats John Stoltenberg wears are novelist and author, creative director and communications strategist, and avid theatergoer. Decades ago, in college, he 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 Stoltenberg’s own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then his life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction and what became 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.