Atlas Performing Arts Center—Lab II

Remaining Performances (tickets available here):

Sunday, July 12, 10:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 18, 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 23, 7:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 25, 4:30 p.m.

They say: Suffering from insomnia, lonely government economist Connie gets hooked on Ambien. When she discovers she’s been dating the local food truck guy in her sleep, she must battle her edgy alter-ego to regain control of her life.

Andrew’s take: I felt like I needed an Ambien after watching Ambien Date Night. The worker-bee comedy is paced so haphazardly—scenes rarely last for longer than a couple minutes before the lights dim again and the cast of four frantically reorganizes the setting—that a coherent rhythm is never established. By the end I mostly felt exhausted and frazzled, hence my cravings for that wonder drug.

But there are still good times to be found in Jessica Erin Bylander’s very D.C.-centric play. The premise, in which raggedy insomniac government employee Connie (Katie Maconaughey) downs Ambien to sleep only to Jekyll-and-Hyde into lusty alter ego CJ, holds a lot of promise. “Rise above your genetics,” CJ snarls to herself in the mirror, one of the show’s best lines, as she aims to ensnare Connie’s food-truck crush (Bryan Norrington) for herself. It ultimately leads, as it must, into a “dream battle” showdown between Connie and CJ for control of their body. Here, Maconaughey shows off her comic chops pitting each distinct personality against each other.

And Amanda Haddock Duchemin, playing the goofy friend with cutting delivery, walks away with the whole show. She’s an expert at playing to the crowd, so when she gets to stomp around through the audience during the climax, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

But much like Connie herself, the play lacks a certain self-confidence. How else to explain a pointless montage sequence, underscored by a song called “Connie’s Boring-Ass Montage”? Or the lack of any real stakes, as CJ appears to have some grand scheme but never hints at what that might be? The choppy pacing is a constraint from which director Strother Gaines never fully escapes. Worse, it keeps Duchemin from really letting loose with her comedic persona—something she did much better, funny enough, during the show’s own preview snippet at Fringe Preview Night. The premise never gets as absurd as it needs to work as either pharmaceutical farce or D.C. lampoon, though jokes about funnel cakes being the new cupcakes come closest.

This may be a bitter pill to swallow, but sometimes it takes more than a killer idea and a mean streak to make an effective workplace comedy.

See it if: You’ve ever woken up in your own bed and wondered how you got there.

Skip it if: You just want to slow down for a second.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Erin Bylander