By Timberlake Wertenbaker
Produced by Journeymen Theater
Reviewed by Ronnie Ruff
I have seen so many abstract plays recently! Abstract plays are great really, all the intense chat with your friends about the true meaning of the play over coffee at Lotzabucks. A few days ago I had the opportunity to see a wonderful play with a fairly stright-forward plot called After Darwin at the Church Street Theatre in Dupont Circle.
Journeymen Theater never fails to bring moral issues to the forefront in any of their productions and Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1998 play After Darwin is no exception. After Darwin is a play within a play that on the surface explores Darwin’s travels off the coast of South America with ship’s captain Robert FitzRoy who is credited with being one of the worlds first great weathermen. It was during these voyages that Darwin developed his thoughts on natural selection and evolution. Generations later, three theatre professionals, Tom, Ian, Mille and Lawrence rehearse a play about the Darwin and FitzRoy expeditions and explore important questions pertaining to" the survival of the fittest" both in their discussions of the play and the entanglements of their own lives. Ian is a natural talent but Tom, although a good actor, must work hard in order to create the magic Ian creates so effortlessly. Is it survival of the fittest? It is this play within the larger piece that has the most to say and presents the most thought provoking bits of drama.
Busy local director Shirley Serotsky directs for Journeymen, a company that consistently brings in top notch directing and acting talent. Serostky brings out the best in the script while camouflaging the weaknesses and manages to keep them hidden until the play’s final moments.
After Darwin offers theatregoers a wealth of local acting talent and this stellar cast does not disappoint. Area favorites Grady Weatherford as FitzRoy and Tom, Eric Messner as Darwin and Ian, Elizabeth Richards as Millie and Journeymen veteran Dallas Miller as Lawrence all offer strong performances but it is Mr. Messner who is simply fantastic in both of his given roles and proves with this fine performance he has become one of the area’s best young actors. Mr. Messner certainly gives his best performance since last year’s Howie The Rookie for Solas Nua.
The Church Street Theatre space proves perfect for the flowing white sails of Tobias Harding’s rather interesting set design that in concert with the brilliant lighting of Andrew Cissna and excellent costumes by Debra Kim Sivigny deliver the travels of Darwin and FitzRoy in fine form.
After Darwin is a fine play that does not preach but instead prompts personal reflection and self inspection. And plenty to talk about with friends at Lotzabucks.
After Darwin is running through March 31st at Church Street Theatre, 1741 Church Street NW, Washington, DC. Evening performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays with a 2 pm Saturday matinee. Tickets: $20. Call 800-494-8497 or purchase online.