There’s a grand spectrum of people and situations to satirize about the District of Columbia, yet Bucharest Inside the Beltway’s production of Districtland manages amazingly to capture only one narrow band of it.
Director John Dellaporta and the actors have done a commendable job translating Cristina Bejan’s navel-gazing play that follows a day in the life of a shared house where each housemate is meant to represent a different type of 20-something who calls the Capital home.
There’s Frank, a Hill intern, Charity, a former Peace Corps volunteer now stateside, Dave, an unemployed but hopeful Democratic Party leader, and Maria, who works at the State Department, is a Rhodes scholar, and holds two master’s degrees from Oxford.
Through an overabundance of scenes (which is probably why Dellaporta is so creative with wooden boxes,) Districtland captures moments in each housemate’s life. We learn that Frank, played by Andrew Quilpa expertly channeling Charlie Brown, works tirelessly without compensation just to be treated like dirt by his congressman boss. Charity, played by a breathy Ruthie Rado, writes poetry while struggling to readjust to American life while answering phones at a nonprofit for indigenous rights.
Johnny Day is believable as the one-dimensional Dave, who lacks employment, but has no shortage of ego or female overnight guests, and Aaren Keith embodies the type-A Maria well as she tries to decide on her next overachieving step. Should she go to Yale Law or get into consulting “like all the other Rhodies”?
While there is technically no single protagonist, much of the play seems to focus on Maria, as she fends off the advances of Frank’s married boss (Peter J. Orvetti), and struggles to find love from an Indian World Bank economist (Vick Krishna), who in turn only has eyes for a French International Monetary Fund employee (Mary-Alice Farina), who’d rather be writing poetry. Oh yeah, Maria’s also trying to find meaning in life and offers commentary about race relations. About her office she says: “The security guards are black, the staff is white, the cleaning crew is Hispanic, and I’m the only one that talks to both.”
This is unfortunate as the other characters offer so much untapped fodder. We never really see Dave’s vulnerabilities, despite his overbearing girlfriend (Andra Belknap) edging him ever closer to Stepford husbandry DC-style, by creating a young political leadership organization together. Frank’s big secret is that he’s a virgin but he mentions in passing that he’s also a Maoist who went to Georgetown. Charity, as the only character outside this particular DC rat race, has the ability to offer an oracle-like presence yet she’s relegated to hippie/hipster stereotypes and is given some of the play’s ditzier lines.
by Cristina Bejan
at Redrum – Fort Fringe
610 L Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
The 20-something angst of Districtland ends with a frustratingly long networking happy hour, an unresolved argument back at the house between Maria and Dave, over what? I’m not quite sure, and a heart to heart between Frank and Charity, over what? Still not quite sure.
Bejan says she wrote Districtland to capture a city that is sucked into a “cultural vocabulary, whether we’re speaking World Bank, or “Hill”, or IMF or MT”. But her over-attention to acronyms makes the dialogue clunky and the use of them and other inside-the-Beltway terms feel like decorative codewords for simple superficiality. The play’s takeaway, that we are more than our professions and we need to take off our masks and really talk to each other, is anticlimactic considering it takes 90 minutes to tell.
Despite attempts at addressing diversity, the biggest failing in Districtland is that it reinforces simplistic views on race and class. The housemates and their friends (with the exception of Charity) are essentially one stereotypical character — that DC obsessed climber who cares nothing of the city’s history, while “The Other” is presented in drive-by tries at inclusion.
We briefly meet poetry night performer A’isha (a funny Robyn Freeman) who says her grandfather’s name is on the African-American Civil War Memorial yet U-Street is filled with white people with dreadlocks. There’s also a chance encounter with an Afghani cab driver (Russell Max Simon) who tells the housemates he wrote a book (another real thing) yet we know nothing about what he thinks of the people he drives around all day and night. Maria seems only interested in the driver’s accounts of his sexual exploits.
That Maria is Cuban-American and Frank is Chinese-American feel like bits thrown in for color — literally — so that an ignorant white character, in this case Dave’s girlfriend, can ask them: “Where are you from, originally?” Haven’t heard that one before.
Bejan says the play is based on 100 percent true stories. I don’t doubt that, however Districtland really misses out on telling a far truer District story.
Take me to the DCTS 2014 Capital Fringe Guide