It has become regular practice for recent graduates of the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Washington to put together a Capital Fringe Festival show as they begin to make the move from study to professional performance. While “Beyond These Walls” is not officially an NCDA production, it was entirely devised, created, and performed by alumni.
As the audience enters the performance space, the eight cast members (the production’s webpage says nine) are lying prone on the stage, some flat on the floor, some propped against the wall or a few timeworn rehearsal blocks. At curtain, one wakes with a start; the others come back to consciousness in quick succession.
‘Beyond These Walls’ is a carefully assembled show featuring high-caliber performances…
These eight strangers discover they are trapped in a room with no door. The Honey venue at Christ United Methodist Church was well-chosen for this production — its red brick back wall and overall small size add to the claustrophobic, imprisoned feel. After a few minutes of panic, the eight resolve to wait out their strange situation, hoping someone will notice they are missing — until they observe that time is frozen in this purgatorial place. (One character compares the situation to “Waiting for Godot,” but it’s much closer to “No Exit.”)
The remainder of the hour is a series of conversations between, and monologues from, these eight very different people. The piece was first devised in 2018 and then modified by three of the cast members, and the characters lean toward archetypes — a white police officer who had been involved in an unjustified shooting of a minor, a veteran dealing with anger issues, a rising young architect whose life is so planned out that she has little room to actually live.
One of the most enjoyable characters to watch is a boorish congressman who cannot seem to drop “campaign mode” even when trapped somewhere in the astral plane. (The show takes the easy route toward making him unlikable by making him a generic Republican; it might have been more interesting if he had an agenda more in tune with that of your basic Fringe audience. Politicians on the “right” side can be self-righteous and ruthless too.) He is ultimately revealed to a socially awkward, insecure fellow who cannot connect in any other way.
These revelations make up the crux of the action, such as it is. The conversations shift from time-passing word games to encounters over Big Issues like police misconduct, abortion, and domestic violence. The only way out of the room is to confront one’s own Big Issue as dramatically as possible.
It’s not subtle stuff, and it ultimately seems designed to give each actor a chance to deliver one big monologue, even if it means addressing people who are not present. The final speech, by a character who does not speak otherwise during the course of the show, is meant as a coda, but comes off as a spoken word piece only tangentially related to the remainder of the action.
“Beyond These Walls” is a carefully assembled show featuring high-caliber performances, but the whole is far less than the sum of its parts.
Running Time: 60 minutes.
Advisory: Recommended for ages 18 and up.
“Beyond These Walls” at Christ United Methodist Church Honey, 900 Fourth Street SW in Washington, will run through July 27. For tickets and more information, click here.