February 4, 2014
Pop quiz – which of the following is harder to do well?
a) scripted improvisation
b) Self-devised ensemble work
c) Shows dependent on audience involvement
d) All of the above
Actually, it’s a trick question – they’re all equally difficult to do and nearly impossible to pull off when combined. Which makes Beertown, being presented at 59E59 by dog and pony dc, so extraordinary. It’s excellent, engaging, thoughtful theatre and it’s really damn fun.
The premise of the show is deceptively simple. The citizens of Beertown are gathering for the 20th Quinquennial Time Capsule Celebration. That’s right, every five years the citizens of Beertown dig up their time capsule and take a look at the objects inside. Proposals are taken for new objects to be included, but since only thirteen can ever be in the capsule, an equal number of objects will need to be removed. The citizens discuss and vote on what and whether objects should be included and, consequently, discuss and vote on which objects must be removed. Sound dry and simple? It’s not.
dog and pony dc are in character from the moment you arrive at the theatre. Audience members are strongly encouraged to bring a dessert, homemade or store bought, for the potluck that will occur prior to the quinquennial meeting. As audience, or citizens, you are given a 20th annual quinquennial t-shirt (which you’re encouraged to wear) and a nametag. Inside the space, you eat desserts and mingle with the other citizens of Beertown. Once the meeting is called to order by the honorable Mayor Megan Soch (Wyckham Avery), everyone takes their seats and any semblance of a line between audience and performers disappears. We are all citizens of Beertown and doing our civic duty.
And that’s the real magic of this show. It involves the audience so thoroughly that it does feel like we’re citizens doing our civic duty. We’re engaged. It’s a healthy and lovely reminder of the democratic process – we discuss, debate (sometimes heatedly), and then we vote and agree to abide by the results. After all, we can always revote in five years. It also raises the question of what is memory and how do we see ourselves and our community. The pieces of the past we leave behind – what do they mean and how are they seen and can we even control that?
Beertown is a truly remarkable piece of theatre. Expertly directed by Rachel Grossman (who is also one of the performers), it boasts a talented ensemble (along with Grossman and Avery, there’s Max Freedman, Elaine Yuko Qualter, J. Argyl Plath, Colin Hovde, Jon Reynolds, and Yasmin Tuazon), a thoroughly convincing world (go to visitbeertown.com and see for yourself), and one of the most engaging shows in the city. Kudos to 59E59 for bringing dog and pony dc up from Washington to share Beertown with us. At $25, it’s worth three times the price.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston