If your tastes lean toward the silly, far-fetched and ironic, look no further than Free Range – a title that may be more a commentary about the style of theatre you will see here than the parenting style that has gotten press in the last few years.
My tastes veer towards a more structured script, but I am an open minded kind of guy and wanted to see if Free Range was more than the sum of its parts. I am not sure it was, but it might be someone else’s cup of tea.
Sure, the series of vignettes (not quite a play), talks about free range parenting, but that is more of a means to an end, based on what I saw. In fact the program notes state the play “arguably has almost nothing to do with Free Range Parenting.” Free range parenting is defined as “the concept of raising children in the spirit of encouraging them to function independently in proper accordance of their age of development with a reasonable acceptance of realistic personal risks.”
FRP does come up, off and on, throughout the play. But so do helicopter parents, free range chicken-raising, swinger couples, furries, and do-it-yourself (DIY) culture. This all fits together like an extended game of Party Quirks, as seen on “Whose Line is it Anyway?” or your basic improv class.
In the midst of all the set ups for the visual and verbal gags, there is a plot involving Samantha (Justine Hispky) and Dave (Derek Hayes) who are the founders of the group Free Range of Greater Washington. Their own spouses are not involved in the free range parenting idea, apparently, and Samantha and Derek try to find members in the park and through message boards. They meet relatively normal Jen (Chinwe Nwosu), an over-achieving, helicopter parent who wants to learn more about the free range movement.
Written by Jeff Reiser
Details and tickets
Jen, Dave, and Samantha are the more grounded and realistic characters, and the three actors who play them make the most of their roles. The others play types, really, and focus on their idiosyncratic nature – the couple looking for more swingers to exchange keys and spouses with; the DIY aficionado who fashions a weaving loom from a bathroom towel rack, and the farm-to-table guru who is looking for more support for free range chickens in the big city. And I can’t leave out the lady in the bear costume, who, it ends up, just wants to relive her college glory years.
Into this melange, Amanda the journalist (Sherrita Wilkins) enters to help spread the positive word about the free range movement. For just a moment, the stakes are raised when the matter of Derek’s race looks like it will be a liability to marketing the free range parenting movement to the world. Being African-American, Derek will hurt the image of the movement, says Amanda. “It’s a matter of optics,” she says, without really clarifying the opinion for Samantha.
I won’t reveal the climactic moment at the end of the play, but I will say it felt forced and even more far-fetched than was hinted at by the rest of the show.
Free Range . By Jeff Reiser . Directed by Justine Hipsky and Derek Hayes . Featuring Justine Hipsky, Derek Hayes, Chinwe Nwosu, Sherrita Wilkins, Sarah Maher, Byanda Minix, Kristen Ruga, and Jeff Reiser . Produced by Christopher Leibig and Jeff Reiser – Avoidance Theater Company . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.