Hip Shot: Barter (or, Stealing Other People’s Credit Cards)

Fort Fringe — Redrum, 612 L St. NW

Remaining Performances:

Saturday, July 14, 4:45 p.m.
Friday, July 20, 11:15 p.m.
Sunday, July 22, 12 p.m.
Wednesday, July 25, 8:15 p.m.

Running Time: 75 minutes

They Say: "Everyone has money problems. Cherry, Benny and Charles are broke — and Eliza won't decide how to spend her inheritance. With the financial system crumbling, these people are forced to look at what they value and why."

Derek's Take: One of the joys of binge drinking is the loopy, desultory conversation that can only occur at 3 a.m. That's when grounded rants against Big Oil and 1 Percenters take flight and transform into bourbon-fueled suppositions that delight the ears of your glassy-eyed tablemates. Someone imagines a cartel that charges exorbitant rates for tap water by the glass, and then his neighbor piles on: What if fast food employees had to have masters degrees?! No wait: "The government protests and riots against the people!" Guffaws abound until the most sober person in the circle slams her palm onto the table and says, "We should totally write this down!" It's in this familiar, unhinged spirit that playwright Emily Daly's sometimes funny and thoroughly nonsensical tale of loss and longing unfold.

Her story takes place in New York, 10 years hence, and follows the manic, doleful wanderings of four twenty-somethings against the backdrop of a ruined economy. A massive tangle of themes clutters a storyline riven with contradictions and unexplained tangents, but these plot points are beyond dispute: Eliza (Lisa Jill Anderson) has just inherited a significant fortune from her mother, a curmudgeony mogul who died when a mirror fell from the ceiling in a men's clothing store and crashed down upon her. At the wake, Eliza meets the salesman who was helping her mother when she passed away, and the encounter sparks an accidental romance. But the lovers are star-crossed. Eliza seeks a life of simple pleasures, such as riding the subway, while the salesman, Benny (Zak Kamin), wants to be rich. Will fate keep them together? In Barter, the question is almost beside the point.

The show's strengths lie elsewhere, in its amalgamation of genuinely funny one-liners and set pieces which undoubtedly inspired Daly to write the script. There's an entertaining sequence where Charlie (Brian Edelman), a barkeep whose mantra is "every hour is a happy one," plays a balloon in tune with a cheesy song. In another scene, he wheels a granny cart packed with provisions stolen from a grocery store around the stage with the vigor and glee of a Keystone Kop.

These moments—which both Edelman and Breanna Foister (as Cherry) carry with energetic likability—prop up a production that has a certain epic ambition but falls far short of that lofty goal. If you pick through its tendrils, you'll find strands of social commentary that could drive an untold number of plays, but rather than choosing to focus an a single theme and grounding her characters in a consistent reality, Daly instead opts for the kitchen-sink approach to play writing. This indecision burdens the audience with numerous awkward transitions and enough red herrings to feed a battalion of Fringe Festival groupies. They'll leave the theater full, to be sure, but hardly satisfied.

See It If: You enjoy staged recreations of Choose Your Own Adventure.

Skip It If: You subscribe to the dictionary definition of coherence.

DISCLOSURE: The author is a writer of/performer in Apocalypse Picnic, a show in this year's Capital Fringe.