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Studio Theatre- Milton Theatre
Tuesday, July 17, 5:45 p.m.
Thursday, July 19, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 21 7 p.m.
Sunday, July 22 1 p.m.
They Say: “A series of short plays that highlight the often ridiculous, sometimes savage truths that everyday people face as they try to make sense of life. From the creator of the NBC show Smash and the Broadway hit Seminar.”
Sophia’s Take: The writing of Theresa Rebeck is the single best reason to take in Madwoman In the Attic. A shared enthusiasm for the work of the prolific and award-winning playwright was the impetus for Madwoman‘s ensemble of alumni from the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts to produce an evening of her short plays. The result is a showcase of solid work that is amusing, if not particularly inspiring or moving.
According to the program, the title Madwoman In the Attic comes from the name of Rebeck’s own production company. In order to provide a framework that connects the individual plays, director Aniko Olah utilizes that image and sets the show in an attic inhabited by a Raggedy Ann doll. Played by Carol Spring, the doll conducts the transitions from one scene to the next.
Lest Fringe audiences get misled, this Raggedy Ann doll is no Bertha Mason out of Jane Eyre. Many may automatically associate this show’s title with Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar‘s feminist interpretation of Victorian Literature. Rebeck holds a Ph.D. in Victorian Melodrama from Brandeis University, so of course, this expertise informs her point of view and issues of gender and identity are integral to her work. From what I can tell, however, it was not the intention of this company to engage with, or comment on, these issues.
The purpose of the doll, according to the production notes, is to be a comforting balm to soften the pain of the “memories,” i.e. the plays, which are stored in the attic. Unfortunately, the choreography and music creates a childlike ambiance that doesn’t shield you from the discomfiting content of Rebeck’s scenes. It just seems unrelated to it.
On the other hand, it’s good news that there is little to shield the audience from the content of the scenes. Nancy Viemeister and G. Michael Harris get the evening off to a lively start with Katie & Frank, in which an inattentive husband drives his wife to gun-toting madness. In Sex with the Censor, Leigh Anna Fry displays spot-on comedic timing as a prostitute trying to grasp her client’s very untraditional wishes. The Funeral Play tackles grief, as expressed through inappropriate emotional outbursts at strangers; Ricardo Frederick Evans and Joseph Michael Jones navigate the play’s demands with sensitivity. Big Mistake and Great to See You fell a little flat, in my opinion, but The Actress brought the evening to memorable conclusion—-one to which the many theater artists in the Fringe audience may relate. Samantha Merrick does a great job portraying an actress who clings so desperately to her dreams she has lost the ability to be in the moment.
Overall, the cast renders the humor of the circumstances more precisely than the pain of their characters, but the ensemble’s mutual enthusiasm for Rebeck’s work comes across. They all have the talent and skill serve the text, and allow her writing to be the star of the show.
See It If: You’re a huge fan of, or totally unfamiliar with, the writing of Theresa Rebeck.
Skip It If: You’re a Jane Eyre fanatic.