There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Similarly ambitious, if a whit less heady, is Sheila Callaghan’s Fever/Dream, an often uproarious update of Calderon de la Barca’s La Vida es Sueño, originally the thoroughly sober tale of a king who walls up his infant heir in a dungeon for fear of a dire prophecy.
In Callaghan’s reboot, King Basilio is corporate titan Bill Basil (Drew Eshelman), while poor Prince Segismund is just Segis (Daniel Eichner), who’s been chained for a decade or two to the customer-service hotline in the basement of pop’s headquarters. (It says something about the actor’s timing, and about the crispness of Howard Shalwitz’s staging, that the opening-night audience was laughing delightedly before that first hurried “CustomerservicehowmayIhelpyou?” had fully escaped Eichner’s lips.)
The antics only intensify as Basil, struck by a fit of remorse (and a guilty dream or three) arranges for Segis to take a drug-fueled nap, during which dad’s right-hand man (an irresistibly unflappable Michael Willis) gets the young man cleaned up and installed in the executive suite. That’s right: Much to the distress of the Armani-clad hyenas (Kate Eastwood Norris and KenYatta Rogers) who’ve been Basil’s seconds-in-command, Sonny Boy will get a shot at running things to see if he can maybe live up to his heritage. As you might imagine, a certain amount of chaos ensues.
Too much chaos, some might say: Shalwitz’s production, designed to the hilt by Misha Kachman (sets), Colin K. Bills (lights), Franklin Labovitz (costumes) and Veronika Vorel (sound), looks and sounds like a carnival, and sometimes it seems as distractingly busy as one, too. And once the evening’s relationships are outlined, it’s pretty plain where things will be going, so all the noise can be a little wearying as you wait for the show to get there.
Still, there’s Kimberly Gilbert to bump up the knife-edge comedy quotient, plus a flat-out hysterical turn from Jessica Frances Dukes as a sort of accidental übertemp, whose eventual fate helps underscore the playwright’s critique of a ruthless corporate culture that’s come to think of human resources as just another office supply. And when Shalwitz gives the play’s soberer moments space to breathe, they begin to make a frame for all those high-octane antics, and a glimpse of something like a solid comedy comes into focus.