One of the nautically themed songs playing before the opening of Rolling By is “Message in a Bottle” by The Police. Unfortunately, the metaphor of a bottle adrift at sea is an apt one for such a muddled production, one that squanders a premise with a good deal of potential.
According to its literature, the show, which is put on by Patchwork Productions, begs the question: What would you do if you had the chance to fake your own death and leave your existing life behind? Sadly, precious few minutes of the stilted dialog is actually devoted to this intriguing question.
The story follows four individuals: The young scientist Tessa (Allison Aguilar) and her friend Mae (Sadie Jonath), Connor (Nick Morgan), and the British lush Niles (Keith Waters), all of whom were on a cruise ship when it caught on fire and now find themselves set afloat in a lifeboat that gets blown away from the rest of the passengers. While the synopsis of the play promises that “nautical hilarity ensues,” what I witnessed was mostly forced, unnatural banter and a plot that never really comes together.
True, it is extremely difficult to develop realistic characters in just 60 minutes, but the survivors are difficult to become invested in, mostly because they come off more like cardboard cutouts than actual people. Type A rule-follower Connor may or may not hate his girlfriend, but we’re not really sure; Niles drinks too much and neglects his wife and kids while failing to show any redeeming qualities; and Mae is, I think, supposed to come off as an impulsive, brash young woman who may enjoy murdering animals.
The only character who really captures your attention is Tessa, helped in large part by Aguilar’s realistic and nuanced performance. Unfortunately, none of the cast is helped out by the script, which clearly aims for realism (the term “too soon” is bandied about, as are a lot of unnecessary swear words), but even Aguilar can’t make her character telling Connor, within only a few minutes of meeting him, that she’s never been in a relationship, but she is familiar with them because has seen relationships play out on TV – something one would not immediately admit to a stranger.
Throw into the mix a lot of confusing behavior involving a broken radio, lots of exclamations about how serious and dire the situation is, delivered in very calm tones, and an ending that was so abrupt that the audience still didn’t know whether to clap even as the actors were on stage bowing.
It’s safe to say that the cast and crew of Rolling By missed the boat on delivering a truly thought-provoking production.
Rolling By has 5 performances, ending July 28, 2012, at Mountain at Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave NW Washington, DC
Details and tickets
2 out of 5 stars.