Sunday, January 20, 2019

Maybe “B” is a Comedy (Hard to Tell)

A moment from B (Chris Bennion)
Washington Ensemble Theatre
Through January 28, 2019

It’s sometimes hard to figure out what you “hear” when you’re watching a play in real time. Those of us who see a lot of plays often dissect a production into the company-made production in front of us and separate out the script and listen in a two-track kind of way. Sometimes both of those pieces mesh together in a solid and streamlined way, and the production feels like it fulfills the promise of the script as the script likely calls for it to be done.

In the case of the production of B, now being presented by Washington Ensemble Theatre, that two-track reflection gets a little tricky. The script of B sometimes sounds like it should be performed a lot differently than what we currently see on stage. In fact, it sounds like it could have been done a lot faster and the production doesn’t sound like it’s keeping up with the rhythm’s inherent in Guillermo Calderon’s play.

Rhythm has a lot to do with whether something is funny or sad. If you take a section of something funny and slow it way down, it no longer sounds funny and in fact can sound tragic. The rhythms in this play are quite slow. Once in a while, an audience member laughs or chuckles. It’s possible that the play could be consider a comedy, though the essential plot is more reminiscent of Waiting for Godot or a political thriller.

Alehandra (Sophie Franco) and Marcela (Klarissa Marie Robles) are stuck in a holding apartment waiting for instructions from someone outside their “cell.” In this meaning, the “cell” is a political cell, not the apartment they’re sitting in. They are some kind of activists who are trying to use antagonistic means to throw the government into an uproar. They apparently use bombs to do that.

When we first meet them, though, Marcela is dissolved in tears and being helped by a neighbor, Carmen (Shermona Mitchell), while she sobs that her boyfriend has just been killed by a bomb, but it’s her birthday and there’s supposed to be a party. That turns out to be a ruse to help explain people who might visit the apartment. As soon as Carmen leaves, Marcela stops sobbing.

Mitchell does provide a lot of potential humor if there’s supposed to be humor. But, again, pacing kind of stops the humor and it just sounds strange, instead. And a mysterious man (Craig Peterson) shows up with a birthday box that contains a bomb. I mean a “cheese” or a “cow” – because he instructs them that they shouldn’t say the word “bomb.”

All four actors do good work in presenting their characters and seeming to know who they are and what they mean. The play doesn’t help an audience very much in terms of explaining much. While the names and some of the dialogue are Latinx-focused, it’s not at all clear what particular country this takes place in, nor if there is a particular regime or policy or governmentally-repressive society they are rebelling against.

If it’s meant to be a comedy and Calderon means to poke fun at revolutionaries who can’t really create change, especially if all they do is want to blow things up – which maybe gets people’s attention but doesn’t direct them toward what change should actually happen, then this production got it wrong from the start. Instead of a long 95 minutes, it seems like it could be more like 60 minutes of non-stop fun.

Unless there’s another opportunity to compare it to a second production, I guess we won’t know for sure. Maybe this will hit your funny bone more easily than mine, but right now, my puzzlement is ticking away.

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