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Tribalism. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately—rereading Armistead Maupin’s magnificent Tales of the City books, with their beautifully observed portraits of the tight-knit clan at Barbary Lane, not to mention the various and decidedly varied tribes of hippies, homos, and highbrow personalities of San Francisco in the ’70s and ’80s.
And then, of course, there’s D.C.’s own brand of tribalism. (Are you a badge-brandishing staffer? A nonprofit warrior? Journalist, lawyer, policy nerd for the Association of Association Executives, the most Washington institution ever conceived?)
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Kathleen Akerley, a onetime law-firm trench-toiler and one of the thinkier playwrights working locally, has gone deep on the question with Pol Pot & Associates, LLP, a darkly funny drama about a group of, ahem, former law-firm employees—from copy clerk to rainmaker partner—who’ve chucked the Establishment life for an establishment of their own devising. They live communally on what seems to be a rural property, complete with koi pond and dumbwaiter. (What? They’re just retreating, not giving up their creature comforts.)
A stranger arrives, having stepped wrong and twisted her ankle, and then the fabric of normality warps—she delivers a grim prophecy in a voice right out of The Exorcist. “You are closer to death than I,” she warns them, but even the sweet young dim-bulb who once collated copies and now reads Tarot cards for a living doesn’t quite know whether to believe her.
This review will come in at about 400 words; Akerley’s play runs to a bit more than 18,000. (She sent me the script. Full disclosure: We get drinks together sometimes.) Which is to say that I’m not going to be able to explain, entirely, what’s going on in Pol Pot. The big picture, though, has to do with how we connect as people, how we clutch our selfish impulses close; with when we pretend to care and when the limits of that pretense break down. With how closed circles—those tribes I’ve been thinking so much about—can warp our sense of the worth of people outside them. How our devotion to those tribes can drive us to extreme measures when they’re threatened.
It’s a tough play. It’s a very fine play. It’s worth the work you’ll have to do to process it.
3801 Harewood Road NE. $12 to $18. longacrelea.org