I’ve heard a lot of great things about dog&pony dc and the shows they produce. Almost near universal praise from friends and regular theater goers about their unique brand of audience interactive theater. Being the constant skeptic that I am, I approached their newly remounted productions of Beertown and A Killing Game, now running in repertory at Round House Silver Spring, with a fair dose of doubt. Could they live up to the praise with some new cast members in the mix before taking them on the road?
Well consider me a convert, because the two shows, either separate or seen back-to-back, are absolutely fantastic!
What is so interesting about both shows is that even though they are so remarkably different in style and scope, they both fully capture the talent and creativity of the dog&pony team. With this being the first time that the company is running both in rep, I fully recommend seeing both if possible. They are wonderful companion pieces that showcase their extremely talented company members: Beertown as a thoughtful and irreverent glimpse into a small town tradition, and A Killing Game as a disease outbreak meets an over-the-top absurdist survival game show.
Complete polar opposites on the theatrical scale, but each possesses the amazing quality of bringing together a room of mostly strangers (the audience), having them interact through these shared experiences, and leaving them with a great sense of accomplishment for working together to make the outcomes of each show. And you know what? You may get free snacks to go along with that.
For any fans of the tv show “Parks and Recreation”, Beertown will bring to mind the lengthy and always hilarious town hall meetings. But now insert yourself into those proceedings. As an audience member you’re already there, so you might as well be a supportive Beertonian and help decide what may go into the town’s time capsule at the 20th Quinquennial (that’s once every five years!) The time capsule celebration is interspersed with a number of flashbacks and recollections, revealing town history since its founding and major events that happened along the way. Mayor Michael Soch (played this evening with small town charm and gumption by Joshua Drew) maintains the order of these thorough proceedings from the call to order to its adjournment (yes, a ceremony program is included to help you along).
With a rotating cast of actors, this show has pretty much everything one could possibly want: bureaucracy, artifacts, a town hymn, and some show-stopping musical numbers for good measure. Running approximately 2 hours and 15 min with one intermission, what is most impressive about this show is the level of specificity and detail that goes into each tradition and town artifact. During the intermission you are able to look at and judge each object that is to be voted in or out of the time capsule, and the very helpful townspeople are always ready with some personal insight into the objects if you’re willing to listen. What is so fascinating though is how within a few short hours the entire audience can be brought together as a community, all through the magic of a time capsule reopening.
At the other end of the spectrum, A Killing Game moves along in a more straightforward and concise manner, and each act is bound to keep you on your toes. Arranged in a strange and wonderful combination of outbreak scenarios, game show games, and live action adventure, each audience member is presented with a pack of cards before the show begins. These cards, much like the ceremony program in Beertown, provide you with a step-by-step roadmap through the twisted world that they create. Each round, six in total, is balanced out by the game show host Mr. Chrome (played with such smarm and understated humor by J. Argyl Plath), leading the audience and cast from round to round and dolling out imaginary points to the contestants.
Closes October 19, 2013
2 hours, 15 minutes, one intermission
A Killing Game
Closes October 19, 2013
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Round House Theatre – Silver Spring
8641 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Details and tickets
The best part of the game comes at the end though, when the entire audience is broken up into four teams to play to see who will survive the outbreak. Each team must choose from a plethora of supplies that may help you combat the deadly disease, and fight it out through various competitions if other teams want the same stuff as you. Running at 1 hour and 30 min with no intermission, this show brings its audience together through two brilliant means: good old-fashioned American competition and the will to survive.
Both shows offer such incredible and fully immersive worlds that are a sheer joy to get sucked into, and are acted by such a phenomenal ensemble that is so thoroughly in sync through all their madcap antics that you can’t help but want more from this talented company.
Beertown: Devised by dog & pony dc . Directed by Rachel Grossman . Featuring: Wyckham Avery, Joshua Drew, Max Freedman, Rachel Grossman, Pete Miller, Elaine Yuko Qualter, J. Argyl Plath, Jon Reynolds, Rebecca Sheir, Yasmin Tuazon . Set and Lights: Colin K. Bills . Costumes: Ivania Stack . Graphic Artist: Kate Loveric .
A Killing Game . Devised by dog & pony dc . Directed by Colin K. Bills . Featuring Wyckham Avery, Rachel Grossman, Karen Lange, J. Argyl Plath, Jon Reynolds, Rebecca Sheir, Yasmin Tuazon . Developed & Scripted by Colin K. Bills, Rachel Grossman, Lorraine Ressegger, J. Argyl Plath, Jon Reynolds, Rebecca Sheir, Gwydion Suilebhan . Designed by Colin K. Bills & Ivania Stack, with Christopher Baine
Both produced by dog & pony dc . Reviewed by Michael R. Kelly.
These shows will be seen on tour: The 59E59 Theaters in New York City will host Beertown for a three-week run in January, and Cleveland Public Theatre welcomes A Killing Game to its stages in April.