Hip Shot: Districtland
Redrum – Fort Fringe
Sunday, July 13 at 8 p.m.
Wednesday, July 16 at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 19 at 2:15 p.m.
Wednesday, July 23 at 9 p.m.
Sunday, July 27 at 6:15 p.m.
They Say: "A loving satire about starting your career in the District, based on 100% true stories – we've all been there, or are there – it'll look all too ridiculous and familiar! Spoiler: you are not your LinkedIn profile ;-)"
Will Says: It's hard to imagine a play facing a softer landing at Fringe than Districtland, which centers on striving group housers—in other words, a good chunk of its prospective audience.
This should be an easy one. Toss in some nods to Prince of Petworth, brunch on 14th Street, and—if you're desperate—Ben's Chili Bowl—and you've got a crowd-pleaser that, alas, will never play west of the Beltway.
Instead, the D.C. of Districtland comes off like it was imagined by someone whose entire experience with the city was an 8th grade trip here. Characters crack “witticisms” like “D.C., C.V.”, mourn Peace Corps love affairs, and anguish over whether to ditch the World Bank for the United Nations. To give you an idea of what we're working with here, the Postal Service's dorm anthem “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” plays twice during the production.
Districtland is truest on the city's complicated racial politics, if only because the play fails so badly at them. The cast's sole African-American character—who, I kid you not, is introduced as the “lone D.C. native”—functions as a near-mute lust object. Her speaking moment comes as she reads a poem she's written about gentrification, with her anguish played for laughs.
Add to that a horndog Afghan cab driver with the clumsiest South Asian accent this side of a Kwik-E-Mart and a theoretically French character with an accent borrowed from Rocky and Bullwinkle's Natasha Fatale, and Districtland is an international incident waiting to happen.
With apologies to Anton Chekhov, Districtland has an armory's worth of guns on the wall, and none of them ever goes off. Characters swirl between cocktail parties, dead-end internships, and queer poetry slams, but nothing much ever happens.
As the third act lurched into view without any compelling stakes in sight, I hoped for a grotesque twist to get things going. A Chandra Levy-style intrigue with the libidinous congressman played by Peter Orvetti (doing admirable utility work here), perhaps, or a fatal Uber hit-and-run.
Alas, it wasn't to be. In the third act, playwright Cristina Bejan appears to have realized that a series of “Overheard in D.C.” anecdotes doesn't add up to much of a play, and throws in an ugly group house showdown over whether the District is truly diverse (spoiler: It's complicated!).
During the fracas, a character confesses that he's a virgin, a revelation that provides Districtland with its best, if inadvertent, laugh. Oh, #thistown.
See it if: Jokes about Maryland drivers leave you in stitches.
Skip it if: You can get Veep on HBO Go.