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Departs from: Fort Fringe – Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar
Thursday, July 26, at 7 p.m., 7:15 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 7:45 p.m. Friday, July 27, st 7 p.m., 7:15 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 7:45 p.m. Saturday, July 28, at 4 p.m., 4:15 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 4:45 p.m.
Running Time: 25 minutes
They say: “Journey into The Circle, a performative audiowalk play weaving time, space and walking audiences into a sensory work of urban art. Let your footsteps gather surreal stories of a woman tripping through past and future memory. Ticket buyers will be emailed audio-files/maps/instructions. Please bring your own MP3 player.”
Derek’s Take: In the run-up to The Circle, the event’s guide-cum-whimsy maker rolls her eyes into her head, takes a deep breath, and then addresses the 10 or so patrons gathered before her. This may confuse you, she says, as if to indemnify banished? (that’s banish-id, laymen) productions for any injuries caused by excessive head scratching after the show. It’s the type of statement that might make a frat boy wonder if he’s being played for a patsy, but it’s actually less a warning than an invitation to explore the tiny revelations that lie at the heart of the show, in the nooks and crannies where sight, sound, memory, and motion meet.
The performance itself is a multilayered assault on the senses. It starts off with an audio component, featuring the voice of an uppity granny piped through the audience’s headsets. Then, granny is given life by her doppelganger as the guide who vamps in pantomime ahead of the group as it strolls down New York Avenue. But participants shouldn’t read too much into her movements, which are in no way coordinated with the soundtrack. The guide, rather, exists to entice her group. Walk here, along the curb; swat there, at those cutouts of disembodied noses; finger these origami cranes; hug that tree. At many moments, the show feels like a low-cost team building exercise, only one that includes awkward interactions with passersby and mute actors along the way.
After awhile, this soup of odds and ends made soupier by heatwave conditions near Fort Fringe pushes granny’s words into the background and then into irrelevancy. The only things that snap you back to the audio is a time travel sound effect that evokes a radio scanner run amok and the chatty amiability of two young women, who represent either young granny or memory makers from some future epoch, it’s hard to say which. Zooooom to the Childe Harold. Zooooom on over to Hillyer Place. Zooooom back to now, whenever that is. The narrative plunges between venues and eras in the way your mind makes random associations just before you fall asleep.
Occasionally, though, granny’s voice emerges. You hear her wander the planks of the now-defunct eateries and recall shenanigans that went down at this or that watering hole. If the listener knows the actual Dupont Circle area, the olde tyme place-names may trigger his own memory, unleashing yet another layer of the program experience. At this point, when the misaligned combination of movements, dialog, and visuals (grainy black and whites from bygone decades) unlock imagery from the participant’s past, what’s left is a feeling of freedom and wonder that approximates granny’s winsome air. If the aim is to induce a warm, nostalgic feeling out of the ether, the production succeeds in that respect, but even then it’s somewhat of a cheat. The process asks far too much from the audience.
Still, The Circle nearly lives up to its avant-garde aspirations. If you can allow the show’s disparate elements to combine, transform, and then separate out again into something that resembles your own memory and sense of place and time, then this walk around the old Carnegie library might be just the thing for you. But don’t try to make any sense of it.
See it if: Your superior mind allows you to dismiss the incongruity of taking a nostalgic stroll through Dupont Circle in Mt. Vernon Square.
Skip it if: You count Attention Deficit Disorder among your ailments.
DISCLOSURE: The author is a writer of/performer in Apocalypse Picnic, a show in this year’s Capital Fringe.