More intimate theatre spaces often lend themselves to a completely different type of performance experience. Such was the case when I attended Nu Sass Productions’ “Finding Neil Patrick Harris,” and the theatrical experience of which I was a part was an extremely entertaining and fulfilling one. Nu Sass does this type of smaller-venue theatre as well as or better than many I have seen. There is plenty of laughter, an amusing dose of audience interaction, and of course, one very well-produced performance.
…plenty of laughter, an amusing dose of audience interaction, and of course, one very well-produced performance…The theatre, the production company, the cast, and crew represent a delightfully synergistic bundle of art and energy…
Written by Donna Hoke, “Finding Neil Patrick Harris” focuses on friendship and what that friendship might look like under a variety of zany circumstances. Katie (played by Rachel Brightbill at the performance I attended) and Cha Cha (Jillian Riti) work at a nail salon. To hear them describe it, their clientele leaves quite a lot to be desired, except for one regular customer, Lucio (Joshua Aaron Poole). Lucio is special and Lucio consequently dies…while getting a pedicure. This then sets the stage for the Thelma and Louise-ish road trip that follows (minus the car off the cliff part).
The pair are in search of (as the title is apt to give away) Neil Patrick Harris or “NPH” to those that know him—which happens to be none of the characters in this play and therein lay the hilarity. Respecting the dearly departed Lucio’s final wishes, the women are on a mission and will stop at nothing to see to it that Lucio’s ashes (whatever remains of them that is) receive the proper send-off. Along the way, as is the case with any good road trip comedy, Katie and Cha Cha meet a few rather quirky characters, all humorously bizarre incarnations of the deceased. Here is where Poole shines. His portrayals of the various iterations of “Lucio”—from Lucy the sister to a wacky rest stop worker—are extraordinarily fun to watch and admittedly, he steals most of the scenes that he’s in.
Rachel Brightbill’s Katie is the earnest center of this play. She starts with a glaring lack of confidence and ends the performance perhaps not exactly emboldened, but a step closer to embracing the power of her own voice. As Cha Cha, Riti does a fantastic job of walking the line between wounded little girl striving to get back something that was missing from her childhood and wise-cracking manicurist who quite wittily keeps the audience entertained between scenes. Collectively, this particular trio of actors is just a lot of fun to watch.
Given the constraints of the space, the set by Aubri O’Connor and Ileana Blustein works perfectly, and the overall strategy for transitioning from nail salon to the various venues the women visit is definitely effective. The large and colorful personae contained within this production prove more than enough to offset any clunkiness that may be incurred upon such scene transitions.
Directed by Bess Kaye who skillfully brings the zaniness here to a nuanced level, “Finding Neil Patrick Harris” (and Nu Sass Productions for that matter) is like an unexpected gem that you might discover while wandering through the city. The theatre, the production company, the cast, and crew represent a delightfully synergistic bundle of art and energy that certainly deserves a place at the table of a dynamic DC theatre scene.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Finding Neil Patrick Harris” runs through June 9, 2023 presented by Nu Sass Productions at CAOS on F, 923 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20007. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.