Prepare to go on a trip with banished? Productions in The Circle² — literally, figuratively, and temporally.
With a downloadable audio track and assistance from tour guide/director Carmen C. Wong, travelers are invited to step into playwright Juanita Rockwell’s memories of Dupont Circle while simultaneously walking among the bustle near the city’s most well-known roundabout.
Wong has fashioned a walk, the third in the banished? footsteps series, that heightens the senses while Rockwell’s script slurps you into the world of two teenage best friends as they traipse through Dupont Circle in 1973 followed unknowingly by an older time traveler (voice by Mary Suib).
The girls (voiced by Laura Westman and Margaret Farrell) smoke pot, eat veggie burgers, and discuss a babysitting-money-stealing mother, virginity, SAT words, and poo poo on wealthy passersby. In this Dupont, long-shuttered establishments like The Golden Parrot, Junkanoo and Blackie’s are open and popular, and boys are still sent to military school even though they want to join a monastery.
Walkers are quickly joined by performers Amanda Abrams and Carrie Monger (who is also the choreographer) as the physical manifestation of the girls’ voices who surprise and delight both the paid audience and unaware pedestrians. Additional performers also add moments of whimsy.
The audience is urged to stop in shops as they follow the girls and participate in olfactory and tactile sensations, but sadly, there is nothing to taste, disappointing only because so many restaurants are mentioned by name and banished? Productions is known for their Tactile Dinner, the first of which debuted at Capitol Fringe in 2009.
by Juanita Rockwell
at Dupont Circle Q Street exit (ground level)
1525 20th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
Details and tickets
The girls’ walk develops moments of temporal dissonance between the 1970s and the present world of the time traveler, who has a special relationship with one of the teens. The walk concludes in the circle itself where the past and present collide.
Rockwell’s script lovingly captures youthful innocence and a love for the urban city, which she says emits the “hum of humanity”and one can only wonder at how hard it must have been for Wong, co-producer Niell Duval, and choreographer Monger to time the performer’s movements with the gait of the audience and interference from pedestrians and traffic.
The audio portion of The Circle² must have been equally challenging as it provides the entire production’s dialogue and plot, as well as character and audience blocking cues.
Because The Circle² is such an assault on the senses, it takes a while to fully understand what you are experiencing, and important stuff will be lost before you get the hang of what banished? Productions is doing. There is an attempt to slow it down a little at the beginning through a short moment of being blindfolded, but there is simply too much wonderfulness going on to absorb in one take. Thankfully you’ve got the audio downloaded and can listen to Rockwell’s script over and over again. Sadly, that only covers one of the senses.
The program says that Rockwell wanted to “prompt audiences to follow her own footsteps through the time machine of memory”, but as the exponent in the name could imply, The Circle² extends far beyond the playwright’s intentions.
There is a moment when Abrams and Monger walk along the median barrier of Connecticut Avenue as the audience follows from the street when it becomes clear just how fascinating and unnerving the production really is. The performers seemed to be moving in step with the dialogue and it feels like you’re watching the filming of a movie. Was that bus squeal in real life or part of Rockwell’s audio script? Why is it that all the pedestrians suddenly seem to be members of the cast, even when you know they’re not? And in contrast, when the voices of others are heard in the audio, why did you long to see them appear in real life, just as the teenagers had?
Like all great travels, The Circle² makes you think long after it’s over. After the show, a simple walk home seems to take on a whole new dimension as you consider what part of your past is being written right now.