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They say: “They know all your secrets. They prey on your fears. They make you scrub laundry until your fingers bleed, until you die. They’ll find you if you run. They planted this tree in the yard. Burn it to the ground.”
Ian’s Take: In the men’s room, during intermission of The Great American Theater Company’s Washed, one of the show’s performers, at the adjacent urinal, mentioned that Act Two was shorter than the hour-long first portion. Putting aside the slight breach of the standard rules of mid-show actor-audience interaction—-this is Fringe, after all—-I was mostly thinking that it ought to be a lot shorter: with a published running time of 90 minutes, there should only be 20 left after the 10-minute break. And Act Two did prove to be shorter: by about 10 minutes. I couldn’t help thinking, as things went on past the appointed end time, that even if this had been forecast for 120 minutes, a good half hour of cutting might have done Washed a world of good.
Pam Mandingo’s play is set in a dystopian future, in a penal colony known as Brighid, located in a desert that was once the flood plains of the Mississippi River. The residents of this colony, all here for particularly heinous crimes, are held here not by walls, but by the fact that there’s no chance of survival should one start walking out into the surrounding arid wastelands. Things don’t seem to be going much better in the outside world either, as the death and despair out there are related in letters to the show’s primary character, Leah Regan (Caroline Gaddy), by her sister.
Leah’s job is to do the washing for the colony, and most scenes occur as endless piles of laundry are scrubbed over a washboard, hung on lines to dry, and folded as more sacks are brought in. Those sacks are brought by Julius (Dan Lachenman), a longtime inmate who shows Leah the ropes. Brighid is largely a bartering society, and with no actual goods to barter, the commodities are the telling of stories, the holding of hands, and—-Julius desperately hopes—-the occasional kiss on the cheek.
There’s also a 14-year-old girl, Hannah (Megan Heatwole, giving the play its most engaging and spirited performance) with a penchant for drawing macabre pictures in the sand, pretending she’s pregnant, and making a nuisance of herself in trying to assist Leah with the washing—-a nuisance Leah eventually welcomes as it becomes clear that the colony’s other women want nothing to do with her.
All of these characters have secrets, which are revealed slowly—-too slowly—-throughout the course of the play, amid their many negotiations and storytelling. The stories tend to all be pieces of the Biblical tale of Moses, from his abandonment to drift down the Nile to the parting of the Red Sea, and these stories hold allegorical import for the events of the play.
These connections are drawn with too much hyper-serious melodrama, which is part of why it seems to go on far too long until it reaches what might have been a fairly shocking twist were the experience not quite so exhausting. But the space at Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes does them no favors, either. The company is stuck in a basement rec room, with a loud air conditioning system with a tendency to kick on at dramatically inopportune times. Blackouts are accomplished by switching the overhead flourescents off, and the single lighting effect is a flashlight used to project silhouettes of performers onto bedsheets hung on the line. It’s really a haunting effect, and particularly inventive given the limited resources, but by the end even these segments begin to wear as thin as those sheets hung out to dry.
See it if: You’ve always wanted to know more about this Moses fellow.
Skip it if: You’re afraid setting foot in a church might be dangerous, from a lightning strike perspective.