We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
The Feet of Clay theater company offers two seldom-produced one-acts in an unusual space: the ballroom of a former embassy. The smaller leg of the L-shaped ballroom, which overlooks Malcolm X Park, is the site of the first and more successful play of the evening, Pulitzer Prize-winner Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook’s Suppressed Desires. Set in Greenwich Village in 1922, the black comedy has a cast of three: Stephen Brewster (Phil Bolin), an architect who is growing tired of his wife’s obsession with Freud; Henrietta (Kathryn Kelly), who wakes Stephen up to ask what he’s been dreaming so she can ferret out his hidden desires; and her visiting sister Mabel (Rachel Hutchison), who’s the catalyst of the Brewsters’ marital crisis. Mabel is fresh psychological meat to Henrietta, who isn’t having much luck convincing her husband that he needs analysis. (He calls it “sort of like an ingrowing mental toenail.” “Precisely!” she agrees.) The set features a large round dining table, around which director John Elko circles the threesome like sumo wrestlers while they argue the validity of the new “scientific method of preventing and treating insanity.” The audience members sit in folding chairs around the perimeter, so close to the action that they’re in the position of dinner guests in front of whom an embarrassing, albeit cutting and witty, domestic disturbance has broken out. Cook and Glaspell are surprisingly vicious in their satirical deconstruction of Freud—and reconstruction of traditional marriage—given the popularity the doctor had among their social set, the artists and radicals in pre-Depression Greenwich Village. Glaspell is hailed as a feminist, but Suppressed Desires was an exercise in political incorrectness before that concept existed. After intermission, the stage moves to the larger part of the ballroom, which proves problematic for Anton Chekhov’s The Boor. Another three-person comedy, with another set of hidden desires ready to burst forth, it opens as Mrs. Popov (Andrea Smith) is completing her seventh month of theatrical mourning. Though her husband abandoned her and was unfaithful, she feels the need to prove she’s the better person by devoting herself fully to her grieving-widow role. She declines at first to see Mr. Smirnov (Brad Minus), a seething, foul-tempered farmer to whom her husband owed money. Then, when she refuses to pay the debt, Smirnov decides to remain in the house until she does. As he watches her, he comes to realize that her mourning might be for reasons other than a broken heart. “You have buried yourself alive,” he observes, “but you have not forgotten to powder your nose.” Chekhov’s romantic vision might have been surprising in 1890 but is pretty well-trod ground now: Two stubborn BattleBots suddenly realize they’re in love. Director Jaime Carrillo chooses to send the cast over the top from the first moment to the last: Smirnov, Popov, and her bumbling servant, Luka (Chris Batchelder), shout and keen and order each other about a lot. The fancy, bygone-era ballroom looks like the reception room of a Russian noble house, but the acoustics of the big empty space make the dialogue as delivered excruciatingly loud. In an evening of witty words, the noise problem is the biggest wrinkle Hot Irony fails to smooth out. —Janet Hopf