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A CurtainUp Review
By Caitlin DeMerlis
Not that any of us expect anything less than mind-blowingly odd works at this theater that can claim numerous world premieres, US premieres and over-all atypical theater experiences, but Full Circle goes beyond what many of us would prepare ourselves for in terms of a unique theatre experience. This preparation should include none of the following: short dresses (some viewers have to sit on the floor at times), stilettos (you know those things weren't made for standing for long periods of time), or heavy bags (leave your lap top or Mary Poppins bag at home, please).
The play, inspired by a Chinese zaju play, The Chalk Circle, is not contained in one room. Instead, Director Michael Rohd forces the audience to travel with the actors as the play unfolds in multiple rooms of the theater. The audience sits, stands, squats, and leans in rehearsal spaces, the lobby, and the main theatre as actors struggle with the chaos of 1989 and the destruction of the Berlin Wall.
"I don't write 'political plays' in the usual sense of the term," says Chuck Mee (as quoted in the program). "But I write out of the belief that we are creatures of our history and culture and gender and politics."
Mee's masterfully crafting the script uses historical events and people as inspiration, yet he creates a new way of molding them together. These characters link together like gears that make a machine that charges forward whose use is that of inspiring revolution, debate, and political discourse.
The staging will strike audiences the most, but the use of various Brechtian tactics also force them to recognize their place in a theatre. Because of the production's movement, audience members feel more like a part of the action occurring until a jarring moment will occur (such as a dance party in the lobby complete with a projection of the words to "Ever Lasting Love" strewn across a giant screen) to remind them that they are viewers and thus enable them to analyze the moments onstage rather than just live them.
A captivating (and impressively long!) monologue in the last scene performed by Woolly Mammoth's own Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz highlights many of the points brought forth. His character asks, "What could you have done? When, as we all know, these things are not up to any individual. It takes a whole class of people, the proper mentalities, the objective historical forces, the right timing and so forth." But does it take a whole class, or can one person make a difference? Can one person start a revolution?
Though comedic moments are peppered throughout much of this chaotic play, the underlying questions about society are more serious than dance parties and colorful characters. Shalwitz's character also touches on the topic of theater's mission to create discourse and debate. Thanks to Chuck Mee and the ambition of this production team, sends audience viewers with their heads spinning with new questions.
runs through November 29th at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street, NW Washington, DC. For ticket information, please visit www.woollymammoth.net, or call 202-393-3939. Full Circle by Charles L. Mee
Directed by Michael Rohd Cast: Jessica Frances Dukes, Daniel Escobar, Naomi Jacobson, Sarah Marshall, Kate Eastwood Norris, Michael Russotto, Michael Willis, and Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz.
Scenic and video design: Shannon Scrofano
Costume design: Ivania Stack
Lighting design: Colin K. Bills
Sound design: Veronika Vorel
Choreography: Elizabeth Johnson Running Time: approx. 2hrs 30mi
Woolly Mammoth Main Stage 641 D Street , NW 202-393-3939
From 10/26/09; opening 10/29/09; closing 11/29/09
Ticket: $32 to$57. Reviewed by Caitlin DeMerlis