"Play by Play" at Project 4 Gallery Wednesday, Jan. 15

No matter how good the kids have it—Uber to daycare, naps tracked by Jawbone, P.E. via FitBit—adolescence is never not going to be the most horrifying part of a person’s life. For “Play by Play,” a group show at U Street’s Project 4 gallery, four artists examine the way that the dread inspired by growing up manifests in playtime. Of the artists in the show—Amy Hughes Braden, Bridget Sue Lambert, Janelle Whisenant, and Mark Williams—only Lambert’s work is overtly playful. Her photographs of dolls in dollhouses reenacting adult scenarios evoke playing house. Williams’ stalactite drawings and photographs suggest the cavernous gulf between a child’s imagination and experience, whereas Whisenant’s wall-hugging, drawing-based installations resemble at a glance the poorly behaved child’s crayon wall drawings. Braden’s portraits are somber, too. All four artists belong to Flex, a local pop-up collective, and exhibit curator Kayleigh Bryant seems to have picked them for their darker tendencies. That approach might be overdetermined. After all, it’s the way that childlike innocence masks deep terrors that makes playtime so fascinating. And anyway, what art doesn’t reflect some kind of childhood trauma? The exhibition is on view Wednesdays to Saturdays noon to 6 p.m. to Feb. 1 at Project 4 Gallery, 1353 U St. NW. Free. (202) 232-4340. project4gallery.com.

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