While sitting in DC Reynolds on Georgia Avenue on a Sunday afternoon, I learned a new drinking game. While this in and of itself might not be remarkable for a neighborhood bar during a holiday weekend, the fact that the woman teaching it to me had a bow and quiver full of arrows strapped to her back made it more memorable. What I had wandered into was a local watering hole transformed into a post-apocalyptic underground bunker by LiveArtDC for their latest production, Noah: Apocalypse.
I was greeted there by a familiar-seeming collection of characters who are “celebrating” the one-year anniversary of a nuclear bomb being detonated over DC by a religious cult named the Covenant who were seeking to cleanse the world of sin via radioactivity and acid rain.
There’s the steely and stoic leader, Noah (Raven Wilkes); her wife and the team’s doctor, Dahlia (Lizzi Albert); Dahlia’s enthusiastic, video game-loving younger sister, Sarah (Nerissa Hart); the wise-ass carrying a secret pain, Lee (Christian M.A. Campbell); the man of few words but many muscles, Shem (Shaquille Stewart); and the knit hat-wearing injured musician—or, as I called him in my head, the Jughead Jones of the Apocalypse—Ollie (Daniel Westbrook). Eventually, they’re joined by a fast-talking and enigmatic stranger, Jay (Jasmine Jones), who throws the celebration into chaos.
closes September 18, 2017
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This immersive experience invites the audience to sit together in the cramped bar-cum-shelter, drink together, and vote on the direction in which the narrative should go (although, just like in pre-apocalyptic America, it’s unclear exactly how much effect one’s vote has on the actual outcome of things). Some of the most interesting and entertaining moments came from my fellow audience members, one of whom, while “covering” for a cast member who had snuck away, suggested that “she’s here, you just can’t see her,” and another who instinctually reached out to comfort a character who was about to cry. The only time that things got awkward was when the cast was pushing drinks on people who either didn’t want to or couldn’t drink them.
Director Clare Shaffer does an impressive job of having the actors navigate and utilize the cramped space to make the most of it. The actors themselves are game and charismatic, doing writer Amanda Quain’s script justice. There were a few issues with the flow of the story itself (at one point, immediately after having the audience vote on whether Sarah or Lee should be sent out of the bunker on a mission, Jay immediately asks one of them, “What’s your name?”), but for the most part, the action and dialog were realistic enough to draw the audience in and keep us invested.
Where the production ultimately falls flat for me, however, is in its lack of innovation on a well-known trope. In her playwrights’ note, Quain notes that post-apocalyptic fiction and dystopian stories are a dime a dozen these days—they’re popular fodder for podcasts, TV, movies, books, and more. And Noah: Apocalypse, while a fine example of the genre, doesn’t do a lot toward adding anything new to the conversation. As I mentioned, the characters feel somewhat out of central casting, and you could swap the Harbingers—members of the Covenant who roam the streets killing the wicked the bombs didn’t get—out for any other doomsday villains, be they zombies, vampires, aliens, etc. I only wish some of the innovation found in the staging and audience experience had also been applied to the script itself.
Overall, Noah: Apocalypse is notable and enjoyable for its immersive qualities. Theatregoers looking for something outside of the usual passive audience experience and those who enjoy role play and tabletop games will likely love it. If the more interesting aspects of the story—like the parallels between this tale and that of Biblical Noah’s—had been explored more deeply, however, instead of being used as a third-act reveal, it would have made for a far more original and thought-provoking piece of theatre.
Noah: Apocalypse by Amanda Quain. Directed by Clare Shaffer. Cast: Lizzi Albert, Christian M.A. Campbell, Nerissa Hart, Shaquille Stewart, Jasmine Jones, Daniel Westbrook, and Raven Wilkes. Fight choreographer: Carl Brant Long. Stage manager: Sam Reilly. Produced by Heather Whitpan. Reviewed by John Bavoso.