4615 Theatre’s world premiere ‘Museum 2040’: An extraordinary immersive installation

Playwright Renee Calarco and Director Jordan Friend have created a complex, fully realized and uttterly compelling art form

Museum 2040, a world premiere written by Playwright Renee Calarco and directed by Artistic Director Jordan Friend, is an extraordinary immersive installation, which confirms 4615 Theater Company’s status as an artistically indispensable force in DC theater.

The National Museum of American Reconciliation’s Acting Director Dr. Alicia LaPointe-Smith (Miranda Zola), center,  approves a speech from guest speaker Elizabeth O’Neill (Valerie Adams Rigsbee), right, while a security agent (Katie Culligan) looks on in 4615 Theatre Company’s ‘Museum 2040.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

The simulated real-time event is a completely original art form that takes us off guard and plunges us into a possible and plausible future.

READ my colleague Ravelle Brickman’s excellent feature, “Behind the lines: A pre-opening peek at 4615 Theatre’s ‘Museum 2040’”

Agent Aquinas meets us as we enter. She is humorless but not impolite, asks if I packed my bags myself, and how I traveled to the location. My male colleague is subjected to a search. Agent Raney observes us warily. We are told to sit. The room, at Dance Loft on 14, is small, and a video is playing, with soft, Aaron Copland-style music in the background. The video describes the origins of the plans for The National Museum of American Reconciliation, the dedication of which will be the evening’s agenda.

We are told that on April 19, 2030, one Michael Earl Ritter opened fire in a suicide attack at the Lincoln Memorial, which killed 85 people and wounded dozens more. Ryan Hirota – at that time a food truck vendor, but formerly a lawyer as well as an EMT, was celebrated for assisting the wounded. In the tragedy’s aftermath, free speech was curtailed, artists and journalists were targeted, and climate change caused suffering and disruption.

The new museum will be a place of remembrance and hope, a place where members of the community can reflect on what happened, how it brought us together, and how it ripped us apart. We are given a special program to let us know what to expect.

We are invited to tour the museum and view its artifacts. One section, covering the years before the attack, features Barack Obama’s “Hope” poster and a small homemade “Hockey Moms for Palin” sign. The Resistance is represented by “Don’t Tread on Me,” and the current president, by another homemade sign reading “President 4 Life.”

Panel members (Miranda Zola, Dylan Arredondo, Shaquille Stewart, Reginald Richard) take questions from the audience. Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

We are invited to place stones on a table, in remembrance. We can listen to eyewitness accounts by journalists and first responders. Musician Sean Harrison performs an evocative guitar version of “America the Beautiful.” Then the ceremonies begin.

Opening remarks are by Dr. Alicia LaPointe-Smith, the museum’s acting director. She epitomizes the cultural avatars who often preside over our large cultural institutions: well-meaning, professional, ever so slightly smug.

Three individuals provide their “Stories of Remembrance.” Elizabeth O’Neill was the teacher of a heroic teenager who lost his life helping others. Sebastian Dakeyo was sent back to his native country for no good reason shortly after the attack. Hirota, who became a US Senator, built a career on his own selfless actions.

A panel discussion initially features Senator Hirota, Sebastien Dakeyo, and artist/activist Erik Patterson. Patterson provides an important racial and historical context for the story. Later, testimony from a mother, Lori Conway, offers a surprise twist near the end.

Although actors portray Sean Harrison, Dr. LaPointe Smith, and all the individuals in the commemorative program, they seem disconcertingly real. The performers mingle with the audience, and we are never quite sure who is a genuine audience member and who is not.

The exhibit designs, clothing, and video are arrestingly authentic. Gregory Keng Strasser has designed a website (UI/UX Design) that is referenced in the program; it adds another dimension to a work of outstanding depth.

Playwright Calarco and Director Friend have achieved something remarkable. They have created a new art form that is complex, fully realized, and utterly compelling. As artists, they have captured our moment completely. Museum 2040 confirms Pablo Picasso’s statement: “Everything you can imagine is real.”

Running Time:  Approximately 90 minutes, including one intermission.

Museum 2040 plays through March 29, 2020, at 4615 Theatre Company, located at the Dance Loft – 14th at 4618 14th Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, go online.

Cast: Miranda Zola (Dr. Alicia LaPointe-Smith), Shaquille Stewart (Sebastien Dakeyo), Dylan Arredondo (Senator Hirota), Reginald Richard (Erik Patterson), Mary Myers (Lori Conway), Valerie Adams Rigsbee (Elizabeth O’Neil), Michael Crowley (Agent Raney), Katie Culligan (Agent Aquinas), Musician Sean Chyun (Sean Harrison).

Artists: Dean Leong, Exhibit Design; Jeanette Christensen, Costume Design; Andrew Scott Zimmer, Video Design.

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Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCMTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She is a playwright and director. An early draft of her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied English at Barnard, and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe. Her father, Carleton Jones, long-time Real Estate Editor and features writer for the Baltimore Sun, inspired her to become a writer.

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