The Capital Fringe Festival has changed a lot since the days of Fort Fringe and long afternoons at the Baldacchino Tent Bar. The artists behind “TBD: A Devised Theatrical Celebration/A Musical Love Letter” were in middle school in those days, but this delightful production recaptures that wildly inventive spirit of Fringe festivals past.
…will remind you why you too fell in love with theatre—and remind you what Fringe is all about.
This show is built on pure joy—joy in community and in creation. Its rough edges endear rather than repel, since they heighten the immediacy and vitality of the action. These theatre artists are thrusting their hearts at us with full force, and it is impossible not to embrace their loving energy.
This is actually two shows, or 16, depending how you count. “TBD” is a series of 15, quick-cut scenes relating to the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ experience. The set includes light satires like a late-night host more interested in an actor’s same-sex on-screen kiss than in the content of her latest work, or an aerosol spray that fends off racist and sexist comments. There are also serious reflections on therapy and workplace bigotry, as well as a few great dance routines.
The audience determines the order of the 15 plays by calling out numbers, and the six-member troupe needs to get them all in within 30 minutes. (There’s a countdown clock projected behind them.) What’s clever about this concept is that while the plays have been devised in rehearsal, the performers never know which they will be called on to enact next. This cuts through artifice and compels them to recreate each story in the moment.
“A Musical Love Letter” spotlights five performers (some who also appear in “TBD”) reflecting on their love of theatre and how, in some cases, it saved them in times of struggle. These personal monologues are intercut with numbers from Broadway musicals including “A Chorus Line,” “Hadestown,” and “Tick, Tick… Boom.” Some keep the original lyrics, while others are written to reflect on the experiences of the young performers, like “Welcome to the Sixties” from “Hairspray” altered to comment on the tough transition to adulthood as “Welcome to the Real World.”
All the performers in both segments are great and complement (and compliment!) each other. Particularly noteworthy is Courtney Simmons, a theatrical whirlwind who appears in both shows and directed “A Musical Love Letter.” Hannah Damanka exposes the inherent bigotry of Hollywood as an actor pushed to be “Blacker” during an audition. Briana Bush delivers a moving monologue on her ongoing recovery from jaw surgery and her refusal to let it kill her stage dreams. Gab Ryan is a kinetic force in several dance routines.
“TBD: A Devised Theatrical Celebration/A Musical Love Letter” will remind you why you too fell in love with theatre—and remind you what Fringe is all about.
Running time: One hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Recommended for ages 13 and up.
“TBD: A Devised Theatrical Celebration/A Musical Love Letter” has remaining performances July 22 and July 23, 2023 at DCJCC Theater J, 1529 16th Street NW, Washington 20036. For tickets and information, click here. For more information and tickets for the festival which runs through July 23, 2023, go to the Capital Fringe website.