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Fort Fringe – Redrum, 607 New York Ave NW

Remaining Performances:

Wednesday, July 20, 10 p.m.
Saturday, July 23, 4 p.m.

Running Time: 75 minutes

They say: “Stories of abuse, in all of it’s forms, told along side comedy, original music, musical performances and multimedia. We meet couples at Table 8 and follow them home to watch their lives unfold. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll sing along.”

Derek’s Take: You know you’ve done it. You’re sitting in a restaurant or bar or park and some striking characters catch your eye. And you stare. Maybe they’re sartorial juggernauts fresh off the DC2NY bus, or speak in a distinctive Mommie Dearest tone, or have twitchy mannerisms that suggest a certain kind of insanity. They seem to be saying, in their own way, “Look at me!” Then something happens: You and your comrades (in slander, it turns out) get this feeling, this urge to comment on the scene. So you invent a backstory based on so many cues, noodling it out in clipped phrases between swigs of beer and omniscient cackles, before settling on an archetype that sounds like truth. Douchebag. Frigid bitch. Etcetera, etcetera.

But what if you could follow your subjects home and observe them in their natural habitats? Would your analyses hold up? These are the questions that propel Haley M. Brown’s Table 8, a theatrical mash-up that mixes stage and screen elements with live music breaks to uncover the real stories of six restaurant patrons. The result is a heartfelt if often tedious production that reveals how subtext fuels the gaps between our private and public lives.

Here, the waitstaff—-our people-watching stand-ins, playing for laughs—-make snap judgments behind the backs of their battle-wearied customers, all of whom harbor secret afflictions. There’s a married couple whose son’s been arrested for trafficking “nonsense.” A wife quietly suffering the tyranny of domestic violence. A health-care professional just diagnosed with HIV. The restaurant scenes waste a lot of time, bogged down in repetitive, transactional asides (e.g. ordering drinks and paying tabs) that chronically deflate the dramatic potential of events onstage. The actors—-a mix of first-timers and more seasoned pros—-try gamely to keep the energy up, but this production reserves its punches for the filmed, follow-up scenes that upend the rules of drama.

In one segment, we see a wife-beating man shot down by his distraught, not-gonna-take-it-anymore spouse, who then launches into a lengthy soliloquy. She covers not only the origins and decay of their relationship, but also considers, as if for the first time, how this murder and her ensuing suicide will affect their teenage daughter. About halfway through her diatribe, the audience stirred, as if wondering how the scene might have played had the wife spoken to her husband before she killed him. A similar inversion occurs in the third sequence, where the HIV-infected nurse, played movingly by Sasha Allen, talks to a patient about how to confess to cheating on her husband. It’s the stuff of uplift, but we never get to see her confession.

Perhaps to compensate for these missed opportunities, musical interludes bracket each “act” and revive the show after each of its film pieces, although they don’t always complement the main content. These emotional contributions, from Ngozi Messam, Kenneth Peters, Jr., and Orlando Harper, stand out as real highlights in a production that hardly exploits its clever conceptual setup.

See it if: You’re up for some watered-down drama based on an interesting premise.

Skip it if: You’re a toe-tapping impatient type.