Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: ‘[best imitation]‘

best_imitationThe Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar – at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Avenue NW

Remaining Performances:

Friday, July 16, at 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 17, at 9 p.m.
Sunday, July 18, at 9 p.m.

They say: “...an original musical by Jeremy F. Richter about five twenty-something individuals, their natural desire to be noticed and the existential 'what if?' mindfuck...”

Derek's Take: The rules of improv are clear: If a player brings a gun to a scene, she best use it.  The audience just feels like a horn-dog deprived of his money-shot otherwise.  For years this mandate has eluded other forms, but with [best imitation], the musical now quivers under the pall of gun-smoke.

From the penultimate scene, when Kari (Liz Pollack) trades her cell phone for a revolver, it's only a matter of time before [SPOILER WARNING] she waxes the entire cast in a genocide worthy of Tarantino.  The only question, really, is... why?  Kari's spree is ordained by a mute writer/musician (Jeremy F. Richter) orchestrating events onstage, and this conceit – the mindfuck, if you will, that the characters are mere marionettes! – in part justifies the show's abrupt ending.  It's an amusing device but, 'til then, the story hardly suggests a referral to Amnesty International.

Aside from the Tea Party-inspired finale, Richter's meditation on loneliness gets a few things right.  The action opens with a tsunami of voicemail messages pouring forth in a bouncy musical flourish.  Jared, you see, is AWOL on New Year's Eve and neither his fiancée Kari nor buddy Landon (Josh Meredith) can get a hold of him.  The song’s vaudevillian rhythm and sassy lyrics (“Where the fuck you be?”) highlight the innocent utility and quiet betrayals embodied by the cell phone.

The characters constantly flit in and out of conversations like junkies on the lookout, more in tune with their hardware than the people around them.  It’s a familiar but salient comment on the fractious and impersonal quality of modern communications — if only text messages could sing!  The cast belts out the opener with clear-throated urgency, then segues into overlapping duologues on matters of regret, isolation, and identity.  Everyone, it seems, is on the same emotional rollercoaster.  Pollack and Meredith are the standout singers here, but Ethan Treutle, Helene Waldemarson, and Matthew Lightfoot also hold their own.

Richter allows Lightfoot, as the bisexual Aaron, a depth deprived from the other characters.  In an affecting scene, Aaron explains why “gaydar” is an offensive term and encourages Landon, whom he’s outed, to “always defy stereotypes.”  Otherwise, the script shortchanges the motivations and needs of the other characters; their expressions of frustration, insecurity, and doubt are often limited simply to “Shit!”  We never do find out why Kari and Jared are spending New Year’s Eve apart.

The program says that the show’s been heavily workshopped and there’s certainly the backbone of a compelling play here.  The songs are short but have potential.  I’d like to see it again after a few more iterations.

See it if: You’re inclined to solve problems through pyrotechnic outbursts.

Skip it if: You're offended by product placements involving a certain Dutch beer.  Look around the Fringe Tent, folks – PBR's ice cold!

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