If ever a man knew how to turn lemons into an ice cold pitcher of delicious, thirst quenching, lemonade it’s Reed Sandridge. The beginning of his story is familiar, cliché even – man loses job, struggles to find work, questions his place in the world. The ending less common – said man copes with unemployment by becoming the quintessential altruist, giving his own money away to complete strangers. Ten dollars a day to be exact.
A Year of Giving tells this true story of Sandridge’s incredible year long journey. The feel goodery is palpable.
Less stage play and more intimate conversation, A Year of Giving is actually an extension, an artful version of the blog by the same name. Sandridge (who plays himself), speaks directly to the audience, dropping tons of anecdotal tidbits throughout. With a friendly Joel Osteen kind of vibe, he introduces us to “the strangers,” reenacting the more colorful, surprising and heartening of his encounters.
Among them, Sandridge’s chance meeting with Robert Egger, the insightful founder of the DC Central Kitchen (played with infectious zeal by Patrick Miller). Or Jen (Devon DuPay), a woman Sandridge met on Day 362, whose husband is tragically killed in Iraq. And of course audience favorite, Knox (Steve Langley), a struggling yet optimistic shoe shine man who is the first to accept Sandridge’s money. Of particular resonance is an unnamed man (also played by Steve Langley) who did not accept the ten dollar gift, stating, “You don’t know how to live without money. I do.” Life lessons abound.
While Sandridge leads the cast (it’s his story after all), his ensemble breathes life into the dozen or so individuals profiled. Devon DuPay transitions from grieving wife to bitchy college kid with ease. Patrick Miller is light on his feet, his portrayal of the “baking philosophy student” both funny and energetic. Cast as some of the play’s most marginalized and afflicted characters, Steve Langley lends great humanity to every role.
Thanks to Director Sasha Bratt, this is a refreshingly simple production with a lot of heart. No distracting transitions or excessive lighting changes. Sandridge’s story is powerful enough to stand on its own two virtuous feet. The stock “mood” music used to accompany the more emotional scenes teeters dangerously toward melodrama, but thankfully it was used sparingly. The actors navigate around a cool web of interweaving lines and ropes (perhaps to represent mankind’s connectedness) and later use the fixture to hang photos of Sandridge’s interviewees. An apropos creation by Set Designer, Melanie Papsian.
Its delivery so saccharine, its message so moral, A Year of Giving is a play you can’t not like or at least appreciate for its warm-hearted intention. For goodness sake, this is the kind of show Oprah would love. And if Oprah would love it, you should too.
A Year of Giving has 5 performances, ending July 28, 2012, at Goethe Institut, 812 7th St NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets.