Darkness. Silence. The flapping of wings. A gunshot. A single dead dove hovering above the stage. These are the opening moments of Douglas Robinson’s surreal look at the senselessness and cyclical nature of violence in the modern world, Pride of Doves, having its world premiere at the Capital Fringe Festival courtesy of Action to the Word Theatre Company.
I’d been looking forward to seeing this show since listening to an episode of the local new play development podcast Inkubator on Air that featured the first 10 minutes of the script as well as a discussion with the playwright. During the chat, Robinson cites the origins of the play: he had just read a book about the Theatre of the Absurd and wanted to challenge himself to write an absurdist piece of his own. When thinking about what he finds absurd about modern life, he looked to the 24-hour news cycle; at the time, the 2017 Las Vegas shooting was (briefly) making headlines. Add in a night at a bar that heavily featured Prince songs, and the idea for Pride of Doves was born.
The play opens on a stage that contains only three large oil drums. In and around these barrels are our protagonists, Emmet (Darnell Eaton), Viktor (Adrian Vigil), and Sylvia (Moira Todd). They wake to find the dead dove (although Viktor insists it’s a pigeon) and immediately set out to find out who or what is responsible for its demise. The fact that the death of this animal registers with them at all in what, it quickly becomes clear, is a post-apocalyptic wasteland is a miracle in and of itself. It’s revealed through the trio’s banter that this world—presumably ours in the not-too-distant future—has suffered the ravages of disasters both natural (“the second flood or the fifth?”) and man made. At various points, grenades are lobbed onto the stage by an unknown and unseen aggressor, and our heroes barely bat an eye. How quickly they have become accustomed to random acts of violence.
Pride of Doves closes July 27, 2019 at Capital Fringe 2019. Details and tickets
In their attempts to find out who killed the dove, the characters’ individual identities are revealed. Eaton imbues Emmett with a childlike curiosity and capacity for feeling, while Vigil’s Viktor is more of the jaded everyman who cares deeply about his pile of stuff and is prone to surprisingly vicious moments. When Emmett chews a piece of Viktor’s bubble gum, his reaction is a stark recreation of the Eric Garner murder. Todd’s Sylvia is somewhere in the middle—she cares about truth and justice but is more confident and dogged than Emmett in seeking it out.
Some of the most enjoyable moments are the bits of metatheatricality that Robinson weaves into the script. Sylvia, for instance, has moments throughout the play when she refers to her baby, clearly long since gone. At one point, when one of the other characters is saying goodbye, he says he’s sorry about her baby and notes he’s always “wondered how it’s going to tie into your narrative.” Similarly, when the enigmatic D (played with disarming creepiness and a sinister smile by Victoria Giambalvo) instructs them to clean up on the “blood” on stage before she washes their hands of it, it’s with a sly wink at the audience. Kudos go to director Allison Frisch for hanging a lantern on these moments without detracting too much from the central story.
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Robinson has found a creative way to explore issues of violence and our indifference to it. While I’m not sure I would have gotten all that I did out of the piece without the background provided by the playwright elsewhere, the result is nonetheless impactful.
Ultimately, Pride of Doves feels like the ideal Fringe show—at 60 minutes, it’s short (and I don’t think the premise would have supported it being much longer), probably wouldn’t have been produced elsewhere in this format, and shows off the talents of a young and hungry group of artists while making the audience think. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Robinson’s up to next.
Pride of Doves by Douglas Robinson. Directed by Allison Frisch. Featuring Darnell Eaton, Victoria Giambalvo, Moira Todd, and Adrian Vigil. Sound designer: Allison Frisch. Stage manager/lighting designer: Courtney Cavallo. Set/prop designer: Ali Mark. Produced by Douglas Robinson and Nina Marti. Reviewed by John Bavoso.