D.C.’s artistic flair abounds with the work of local writers and actors. The vitality of the local scene is often stifled, however, with few venues for them to perform. It’s refreshing to see the D.C. Arts Center supporting some homegrown talent.
Entitled “Cafe Menage: Three One-Act Plays that Don’t Suck,” D.C. Arts Center’s new production lives up to its name. It is not an awe-inspiring experience, but it defiantly does not suck. It is hard to dislike a play that offers no apologies about being an amateur production.
The acting is raw and many of these actors are undiscovered talent who, for the most part, flawlessly change character roles in each of the three one-act plays. All three plays are set in the same cafe on the same day with intertwining subplots and language.
Opening with a one-act titled “Score,” the show starts fast with a satirical look at an attempted pick-up between a nerdy guy and a bitter woman. It is told through the eyes of two sports commentators, one a referee and the other a sports analyst. This one-act play is by far the best of the bunch. Its sharp timing, strong direction by Meredith Kiffer and an amazing performance by GW alumni Drew Johnson turned this innovative script into a hilarious examination of pick up dos and don’ts. The key to the success of “Score” is its consistent and collaborative acting.
“Acting Up,” the second one-act play, was far less impressive. The writing loses everyone except the serious thespian through its obscure references and awkward dialogue. In “Acting Up,” the ghosts of Christopher Marlowe and Virginia Woolf appear to a student to help him study for his theater final. The opening dialogue between Marlowe and Woolf is poorly scripted, but strong acting and modernized performance of the interchange between Petruchio and Kate in “Taming of the Screw” saves this one-act from disaster. In general, the humor feels forced, witless and poorly timed. It fails to match up to the more energetic “Score.”
The third one-act play is called “Cafe Manage.” This play examines the conversations taking place at three different tables at a cafe. It allows the audience to capture snippets of these very different conversations that become intertwined as the play progresses. While the dialogue is far from extraordinary and the play is clumsily staged, the acting carries the performance. The play uses themes that are overdone. Only when the conversations in the play breakdown does it offer the innovative crisp satire that defined the two others.
The greatest part of “Cafe” was the witty, intelligent and innovative writing by Joe Killiany and Kyle Brannon. While it is no “Casablanca” and will probably never find its way to the Kennedy Center, this play was worth the experience. The theater is located in the heart of Adams Morgan and the bars only get exciting once this play ends. So why not replace the pre-party with a little community theater?