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Fort Fringe – The Shop

Remaining Performances:

Saturday, July 28, 6 p.m.
Sunday, July 29, 4:15 p.m.

They say: The Fantastical… is a series of theatre/science experiments. Cecily Marlborough and Gwendolyn Hamm, time-traveling Victorian social anthropologists, arrive to conduct studies. Created by audience and actors alike, The Fantastical… reveals the miraculous, beautiful and bizarre habits of our modern lives.”

Ian’s Take: So you take Mary Poppins. Then you clone her. Then you cross your Poppins twins with Doctor Who, and cross them again with Margaret Mead. Put them in a time machine with Jules Verne for…well, it’s a time machine, so how long you let them finish is probably irrelevant, isn’t it? At any rate, out come Cecily and Gwendolyn, a pair of hoop-skirted, time-traveling Victorian anthropologists who have arrived at Fringe this year to see what it is that makes Washingtonians in the year 2012 tick.

Of course, this means they’re going to have to ask you—-yes you, there, in the audience—-questions. This is an anthropological probe, so they’re going to ask about what it’s like to live here, what we do, how we co-exist. Official roles will be assigned to certain audience members: One person to take notes, one to draw pictures of the proceedings, one “key informant” who will provide information on demand. There will be occasion for some people to be called to the stage to demonstrate, through physical metaphors, the things being discussed.

So, yes, there it is: the dreaded, divisive audience-participation show. The Fantastical Capital Anthropological, Inquisitorial Probe is not a sit-back and watch proposition, and show creators, directors, and performers Karen Getz and Kelly A. Jennings will, like the best teachers, do their best to get everyone in the class to speak up.

Now, I know a lot of you have very strong feelings on the issue of audience participation. Me, I’m fairly agnostic on the issue; I don’t think it’s the inherent and mortifying evil many people do—-and this is coming from a guy who writes because he doesn’t like a whole lot of eyes directly on him. In any case, if there’s a continuum of audience-participation shows, running from embarrassing and cruel on one end to thoughtful and rewarding on the other, Getz and Jennings manage to skew far to the more pleasant end of that spectrum.

This is a show that feels like it is probably radically different every time, as Getz and Jennings mold it around the responses they receive as they question the audience and initiate discussion. My guess is that they do steer the proceedings though, and the endpoint this show seeks out is one that demonstrates that we’re probably more similar than our ideological differences might indicate. That sounds like a whole lot of hippie hokum, but the pair manage to largely steer clear of that territory. Or maybe they don’t, but they were just too charming for us to care: What was that Ms. Poppins said about the spoonful of sugar?

See It If: You’re the sort of person who enjoys an evening of thought-provoking discussions with strangers more than watching TV.

Skip It If: You don’t care what anyone says, you didn’t buy a ticket so you’d have to perform the show yourself.