“Some men seek immortality through their work,” Woody Allen once explained. “Some men seek immortality through their posterity. I seek immortality through…not dying.”
I feel ya, Wood-man. And so, apparently, does Erin Bregman, whose A Bid to Save the World – a confused mish-mash, with music – imagines a universe in which death is a thing of the past.
A young woman (Anna Lynch) who has just lost her beloved brother (Shane O’Loughlin) conjures up this universe, where Death (Kimberlee Wolfson) is obliged to find work elsewhere.
A world without death would face profound problems (you think Social Security has difficulties now?) but in this deathless universe, the principal challenge seems to be that two high school students (Natasha Gallop and Rafael Sebastian) are curious about death and, improbably, want to bring it back. (We haven’t had diphtheria in years, but nobody wants to bring that back.) In a side story, an enormously wealthy man (Steve Lichtenstein) wants to spend his fortune bringing about world peace, and his hyperefficient minion (Allyson Harkey) finds the means – a young man (Shane O’Louglin) singing a cool tune really well. In another side story, Lydia (Aubrey Bertaux) berates her sister (Rachel Viele) for not cleaning up after herself in their shared living space. In yet another side story, Death, prior to her unemployment, brings about her grisly result by eating oranges.
I would like to say that all of these disparate stories come together in some sort of dramatically satisfying way. I would also like to say that we have achieved world peace through excellent music. Alas, the wish is not always father to the deed. Bregman’s various narratives bump up against each other like strangers on the Metro, but rarely do they exchange words, and never, to my understanding, to any good purpose.
A BID TO SAVE THE UNIVERSE
Source Festival at
1835 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Details and Tickets
There are other merits to the production: although direction can’t add coherence to a plot that lacks it, Elena Velasco moves things along at a pace that does not allow us to dwell on the plot holes, and all of the performances are at least adequate. Some of the work is, in fact, first-rate: I bought Gallop both as a teenager with a surfeit of self-esteem and as an enthusiastic proponent of death, and Lynch was enormously mobile and flexible, both physically and emotionally, on stage.
Bregman’s play is full of fresh ideas, but they never amount to much. It was clever to imagine a world in which books have been replaced by hologrammatic narratives, and to engage the actors to become the images. Alas, the narratives are kind of dopey, and the poses the actors assume are (purposely, I think) rigid and unconvincing. The idea that Death kills by eating oranges opens up some possibilities – does an early frost reduce the death rate? – but Bregman never does anything interesting with it.
Still, the nice thing about a Festival like the Source – with its spirit of adventure and its very reasonable ticket prices – is that it is a chance for the artist to experiment, and for you to experiment as well. Sometimes an offering misfires, but at other times you get something like last year’s Osborne-winning Perfect Arrangement, and you feel like your ticket to the entire Festival has been paid in full.
– I am obliged to point out that Mr. Johnson has occasionally reviewed Fringe Festival shows for this publication. This has not affected my review. –
A Bid to Save the World, by Erin Bregman . Directed by Elena Velasco . Songs: Original Music by Jon Jon Johnson. Lyrics by Erin Bregman . The “Song of Great Sorrow and Beauty” (“The World-Changing Tune”) was devised by the cast. Musical direction by Jon Jon Johnson. Featuring Audrey Bertaux, Natasha Gallop, Allyson Harkey, Steve Lichtenstein, Anna Lynch, Rafael Sebastian, Shane O’Loughlin, Matthew Rubbelke, Rachel Viele and Kimberlee Wolfson. Produced by Source Festival/CulturalDC . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.