Legal tender is a series of snapshots of regular people’s lives, engaging, hilarious, and thoughtful. Most are moments that are immediately familiar and will give you that knowing smile of recognition. Each vignette is centered on the theme of one dollar. The characters explore the relationships among both intimates and strangers and the idea of what a dollar can mean to each of them. A couple goes camping to celebrate their anniversary, a pre-teen desperately digs in his pockets for change, a white woman in Texas uses a colored only bathroom to try and teach her daughters a lesson about racial injustice. Legal Tender draws connections between characters of varying ages, races and backgrounds with one dollar as the starting point.
Legal Tender is the latest piece from The Performing Knowledge Project, which was started by Michael Oliver and Elizabeth Bruce. Their first piece, Embodying Poe: Poetry-in-Performance, premiered at the 2011 Fringe Festival. Since then they have put together other projects, but this is their first Prose-in-Performance piece. Director Michael Oliver paces Legal Tender quite well, with the actors switching smoothly between scenes and roles, considering they had to present nine vignettes in one hour. Unlike some fringe productions they made good use of the small space, which helped make the stories feel intimate. The costumes were fun and simple, with actors literally wearing different hats as they went from character to narrator to sound effect (for example, Maya C. Oliver is both the narrator and an obnoxious honking car in Exact Change Only).
Elizabeth Bruce’s writing is both funny and smart as she puts an interesting spin on familiar situations. In the vignette Ducky Wucky, a girlfriend, played by Rachel Viele, struggles not to yell at her boyfriend, Forrest Rilling, for forgetting the can opener (which cost only one dollar) that she had reminded him to bring earlier and which he had promised he had packed. I’m sure most of us have found ourselves on one or the other end of that situation.
The Sound design done by Elliot Lanes provides a perfect transition from one vignette to the next, keeping the mood lighthearted and fresh. The cast– Sharyce L. McElvane, Maya C. Oliver, Forrest Rilling, Rachel Viele, and Andrew White–switch roles impressively throughout the play. They mostly nailed the comedic timing of the pieces and I can only imagine the challenges of changing accents and characters so quickly. Forrest Rillings portrayal of a Virginian man, fresh out of prison going on a rant about having to pay exact change only through a toll on the way home, was hilarious!
Legal Tender runs through July 27th at the Gearbox located at 1021 7th street NW, Washington DC. For tickets, click here.
Running Time: one hour
Advisory: Contains profanity