While fall brings chilly weather and dreary skies to the Mid-Atlantic, there’s no need to worry about winter just yet: Pointless Theatre Co. is offering the warm breezes and sunshine of Brazil at the Logan Fringe Arts Space with Gimme a Band, Gimme a Banana! The Carmen Miranda Story. Granted, the performance is not all sunshine and samba, but the swirling synthesis of Pointless’ signature elements—live music, puppetry, masks, movement—might have you throwing on your sunglasses and leading a conga line down H Street.
Gimme a Band (a pun on her song, “Gimme a Band, Gimme a Bandana”) traces the meteoric rise and dramatic fall of Carmen Miranda, who was once the highest-paid actress in Hollywood, although you probably remember her as the woman dancing with bananas on her head. Miranda’s (true) story is a familiar one—a descent from bright-eyed talent to hot-mess movie star with bad habits. Playwrights Mel Bieler and Patti Kalil keep the story fresh by picking a few key moments in which to undermine those tropes.
Clocking in at just over an hour, Pointless’ contribution to the Women’s Voices Theater Festival wastes no time rocketing through Miranda’s life story. The culprit for the short run time might be that, unlike other jukebox musicals, Gimme a Band uses nothing but Miranda’s songbook for its script. Without dialogue, the show moves quickly and sacrifices some of the story’s nuance, but overall it’s impressive how much the ensemble communicates with suggestive staging.
That ensemble is one of the strongest elements of the performance, and seamlessly integrates a four-piece live band, to boot. Juggling multiple roles as singers, dancers, actors, musicians, puppeteers, and run crew, each performer gets a moment or two to shine. A few of them manage to really stand out: Pointless company member Scott Whalen, whose physical storytelling is impressive; and Rebecca Ballinger, who gets a lovely solo song as a nightclub singer.
The woman at the center of the production is Washington newcomer Sharalys Silva as Carmen Miranda. Making her U.S. debut, Puerto Rican Silva has unending charisma and a voice as smooth and sweet as a piña colada. She does it all in four-inch, platform shoes. Though the majority of the performance requires her only to enthusiastically sing and dance, Silva shows off considerable acting chops near the finale, bringing vulnerability to Miranda’s last few brittle days in the spotlight.
Pointless Theatre is known for its stylized design aesthetic, and Gimme a Band won’t disappoint loyal fans. Playwrights Mel Bieler and Patti Kalil wear a number of hats for this production: they also designed the sets and puppets. Kalil and Bieler use the vibrant colors of Brazilian folk traditions and Pointless’ signature childlike style to their full advantage, creating a brilliant set piece for Rio de Janeiro out of colorful cardboard and using paper to construct foliage for a proscenium arch. Frank Labovitz’ costumes follow suit, especially in the creativity on display in Miranda’s signature “tutti frutti” hats.
If there is one major complaint with Gimme a Band, it’s one that requires some behind-the-scenes theater knowledge to fully enjoy the production. Though it’s an adaptation of actual historical events, the program has no dramaturgical note or historical information. Without dialogue it quickly becomes hard to figure out who each of the characters are without biographical context. Brendan O’Connell plays someone named Sebastian; was that a historical character or someone invented by the playwrights? Philip da Costa plays Aloysio de Oliverio, but who was that? A short Google search after the show will help, but future Pointless productions sans dialogue would benefit from giving the audience tools to keep up with this frequently referential company.
Pointless Theatre continues to be one of the most consistent young companies in town. If you have missed their productions in the past, Gimme a Band is a great place to start. Do some brief research on Carmen Miranda if you need a strong grip of the plot, but truly no prior knowledge is needed to have a great time. With heartwarming samba music and bright design, you can forget the winter blues by grabbing a rum drink at the Fringe bar and kicking back the “South American way.”
1358-1360 Florida Ave. NE. $15–$25. (202) 733-6321. pointlesstheatre.com.