Review by Sonia Roberts
Before entering the theater, I was instructed to check my coat and put on a t-shirt that said “20th Quinquennial Beertown Time Capsule Celebration” and a nametag, and was then ushered into a transformed meeting hall complete with a dessert potluck (all Beertonians, audience members included, are encouraged to contribute). Mayor Soch eventually gives us a 2-minute warning that the ceremony is about to start, and brings the festivities to order.
In dog & pony dc’s devised Beertown, we are Beertonians who have shown up to decide which artifacts are voted in and out of Beertown’s time capsule, opened once every five years. The town archivist presents each artifact currently in the time capsule (ranging from an editor’s spectacles to a jar of smoke from a tragic fire), while (actor) Beertonians introduce three new potential artifacts that they would like to be included in the time capsule – a Holy Rollers ring, a Prop 6 sign, and a controversial gun that has been voted in and out of the time capsule several times (I would assume these change nightly). Then the town must vote on which artifacts should go in as well as which should come out, judged on the basis of its “HEAT:” Historic Value, Emotional Value, Artistic Value, or Too Important Not To Be Included. This interactive environment weaves in and out of musical interludes and flashback scenes (“antecedents”) that give us a better sense of Beertown’s history and how it fits into this country’s history as a whole, and (successfully) aim to integrate us into this tight-knit community.
The first half drags due to the lack of audience involvement and lackluster antecedents. We do get up to sing the “Beertown Hymn,” but it’s too long, even though tonight we’re only singing verses 1 & 3. The archivist’s descriptions of the artifacts are tedious, and already provided in the program (cleverly, it’s the Quinquennial’s program and not the show’s, which are handed out upon exiting the theater). At “recess,” when we are welcome to go up and inspect the artifacts if we like, I felt tired but intrigued. I was looking forward to a more action-pacted second half, and luckily, I got what I wanted. The audience transformed into a large group of opinionated, stubborn Beertonians, chiming in to defend the historic value of a film projector or argue that there’s no possible way that there can actually be smoke in a jar. So many Beertonians want to talk that the Mayor has to stop calling on everyone, and audience members and actors alike start getting into private spats with one another and pushing each others’ buttons. The room gets quite tense.
dog & pony dc’s friendly, enthusiastic actors (especially Wyckham Avery, the no-nonsense, slightly-biased-but-not Mayor Soch with a hilarious deadpan, and Rachel Grossman, also the director, gives an intuitive, albeit overdone at times, performance as MJ, her awkward teenaged daughter), get us to feel comfortable in this space, to really become a part of Beertown, and most importantly, they make us feel lucky and strong. Lucky that we, as Americans, have the right to speak up and vote and make our voices heard. I left the theater feeling inspired by the strength and power of community.
*Photos: C. Stanley Photography
Devised by dog & pony dc
Running through February 16th
Tickets at www.59E59.org