Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of An Act of God
Don't worry, Posner's production in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at Olney Theatre Center in suburban Maryland is not a send-up of Wilder's classic in the mode of Avenue Q. The theatricality of seven actors who play their own roles, then take on the other characterizations while manipulating lifelike if child-size figures designed by Aaron Cromie, is hypnotic as it draws the viewer in, creating an alternative reality.
Posner has staged the action "alley style," with the performance area running lengthwise between facing banks of seats. Misha Kachman's bare-plank scenic design sets the home of the Webb family (Todd Scofield, Andrea Harris-Smith, Cindy De La Cruz) at one end and the Gibbs family (Tony Nam, Megan Anderson, William Vaughan) at the other. In between, the Stage Manager (Jon Hudson Odom) slips in and out of character while cast members provide live sound effects: the clink of glass milk bottles, the whistle of a distant train.
Another one-time theatrical innovation that has become commonplace is multicultural casting, which demonstrates how Wilder's self-contained town of early 20th-century white, Christian New Englanders can be a microcosm for an entire diverse world. The puppets are diverse as well, from the outspoken African-American church lady to the reframing of a pedantic professor as a woman.
Odom is a low-key marvel as he shape-shifts from one characterization to another, and the other actors find the unique humanity in the people they embody. De La Cruz and Vaughan convey the heartbreaking youth of Emily and George without overplaying, while Nam, Anderson, Scofield, and Harris-Smith bring a comforting lived-in presence to their roles.
Olney Theatre Center