DC is (in)famous for being a “transitional” city—people move here, stay for a few years, and then leave. But what happens when you discover your love of playwriting here and then move back to Marfa, Texas, with a bunch of scripts in your back pocket? Well, you bring your artists friends from Marfa to the District to put on a Capital Fringe show, of course! Or, at least, that’s what playwright and performer Hope Lafferty did with her excellently entitled new show, Mayhem and Other Delights, a collection of very short plays that unfortunately fail to create more than the sum of their parts.
In a note in the program, Lafferty explains that, at the age of 51, she had established herself as a successful science writer and editor but found herself unsatisfied merely writing about other people’s passion projects. This led her to enroll in The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts 18 months ago and to subsequently be accepted into the Kennedy Center Playwriting Intensive. The result is seven plays written in 13 weeks, which she took with her when she moved back to Texas and hooked up with the Dresden Collective. The rest, as they say, is history.
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As you enter the Peacock space in St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, you’ll be welcomed by the house band consisting of composer and band leader Andy Schneider and percussionist Sean Peterson. They play before the show and in between the seven brief (very brief; few, if any were more than 5 minutes long) plays. Schneider’s personality and positivity are infectious and watching him watch the plays with obvious joy is half the fun. For sure, you’re not likely to find better scene changes anywhere in the festival.
As for the plays themselves, they cover a wide range of topics and settings, from opioid addiction to a frazzled mother attempting to meditate to the site of a category 5 tornado in 1968. The strongest of these is a series of three plays in which a human being fights with an autonomous Prius who refuses to let him or her in the car for reasons of honor, jealousy, or bigotry.
Mayhem and Other Delights closes July 28, 2019. Details and tickets
Another standout was called Four A.M. Feeding, in which a woman (played by Lafferty) can’t sleep, thinking about the children she’s realized she’s not going to have in light of a friend’s failed IVF treatment. “It’s grief over nothing, nothing happened,” she muses about both women’s complicated feelings regarding motherhood to her husband (JB Fields), who’s supportive but really wants to get back to sleep.
Unfortunately, the rest of the plays mostly fall flat. In fact, they never really resolve, they just end—so much so that audience members had a hard time distinguishing when a piece was finished. This was a real shame, because in those few minutes, Lafferty had set up some promising premises. For instance, in Busking for Naloxone, a young woman (Gabrielle Rule) who has just graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College announces to a packed commuter train that her mother (Lafferty) is an opioid addict who’s overdosed. And… that’s it. This felt like a great jumping off point for a more fleshed-out narrative, but then the play just stops. It’s clear that Lafferty is going for a slice of life in these pieces, but even slices of life need beginnings, middles, and ends. Lafferty clearly has talent, so it’s a shame that so many of these plays feel so under-baked.
Kudos must be given to the actors of the Dresden Collective (Michael B. Amerson, JB Fields, Theseus Francis, Hope Lafferty, and Gabrielle Rule), who throw themselves into these vignettes with enthusiasm and verve despite this being their professional stage debut. A special shout out goes to Fields, who shows immense versatility embodying characters as diverse as a bratty teenager to a stoned husband to a racist automobile. And it was a lovely touch that, at the end of the show, the actors came out into the audience to shake our hands and thank us for coming. Who says there’s no civility to be found in Washington these days?
Mayhem and Other Delights by Hope Lafferty. Directed by Theseus Francis, Michael B. Amerson, Gabrielle Rule, and Hope Lafferty. Featuring Michael B. Amerson, JB Fields, Theseus Francis, Hope Lafferty, and Gabrielle Rule. Music by Andy Schneider. Kit player/percussionist: Sean Peterson. Technical director: Mike Noth. Produced by Dresden Collective of Marfa, Texas. Reviewed by John Bavoso.