Hip Shot: ‘The Tragical History of Eleanor Bloom’
The Bedroom at Fort Fringe, 612 L Street NW
Saturday, July 17, at 1 p.m.
Thursday, July 22, at 8 p.m.
Friday, July 23, at 6 p.m.
Saturday, July 25, at 11 a.m.
They Say: "How exactly do you sell your soul to Satan? Eleanor Bloom, a disenchanted DC hipster finds out in this witty satire of morality and identity in the Internet age."
Ian's Take: Remember that squalid, overcrowded group house you found yourself living in after college, filled with under-employed slobs who were convinced they had the world figured out? Or perhaps you work in a creative field, in which case you may still be stuck in that there, surrounded by half-eaten bags of vegan junk food and cheap flasks of bourbon. In either case, Eleanor Bloom's life may seem disturbingly familiar, stuck as she is in a dead-end food service job, with a vapid party-girl and a tortured artist for roommates, and an internet-obsessed squatter spending his days and nights glued to a laptop and trying to come up with the perfect commercially viable band name.
This indiscreet charmlessness of the slackoisie is the easiest of targets for the would-be satirist. Take plenty of cultural references of both the pop- and the high- variety, find some amusing turns of phrase to employ them in, and you're already halfway there. Lee Alan Bleyer and Jessica Pearson have the disinterested hipsters of Tragical History delivering disdainful bon mots like, "Beethoven is the new Vivaldi," or constructing metaphors about Manifest Destiny as it applies to hot sauce stolen from Mexican restaurants.
There's an inherent dissatisfaction in this lifestyle: anyone would be at least a little unhappy if they spent this much of their days committed to ironic detachment. So who should show up at the door selling a way out of their ennui but Satan himself, asking but a small price, something each resident of the house "isn't even using", in exchange for that which each of them wants most of all.
Pearson do an amusing job skewering aimless 20-somethings and post-art-school pretension. These may be fish in a barrel, but that doesn't prevent their script from being clever and often laugh-out-loud funny, even if it occasionally shades towards a too-improvisational looseness. Jon Jon Johnson does some impressive scene-chewing as Nick, the nom de guerre of the generally unflappable Prince of Darkness, who burns through the residents of the house like a Hellish wildfire, granting them gallery openings and insights into the inner workings of the universe. Of course, even the seductions of Satan are no match for the internet, and watching him trying to convince the house's Google-brained resident that he can offer him information not available online provides some of the most entertaining fodder.
But when he is successful, of course, things have a way of backfiring on those making deals for their immortal souls. Eleanor's wish has enough negative consequences to be counted on a barrel-full of monkey's paws, and it's in the play's conclusion, as she debates these unintended side-effects with Nick, that the play loses a little focus. Their overlong discussion is the kind of philosophical debate that she and her roommates would probably have at 2 a.m. after kicking a bottle of Wild Turkey and passing the bowl around a few times, and it seems too earnest for a show that has spent most of its duration ridiculing these characters.
Anna Brungardt has the difficult task of making Eleanor sympathetic enough that we actually care about her fate in the play's waning moments. She does as well as can probably be done, but Eleanor is difficult to like, with her casual antagonism and noncommittal attitude towards life. It may be her name on the marquee, but this play really belongs to Cypher (Matt Dewberry), the Dorito-crunching, soda-chugging, web-surfing couch potato, who maintains a blissful, likeable ignorance within his information overload. If Eleanor's greatest crime is trying to understand existence, Cypher's greatest gift may be his commitment to cataloging knowledge without really understanding it. Who it is that really gets the rawest deal in all of this is up for debate, and a sly bit of commentary in this uneven but enjoyable play.
See It If: You enjoy seeing the most shallow of the over-educated under-achieving class getting their just desserts.
Skip It If: You thought reality bit more than enough in Reality Bites without substituting Satan for Ethan Hawke.