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Redrum at Fort Fringe, 612 L Street NW

Remaining Performances:

Friday, July 15, at 6:00pm Sunday July 17 at 4:00pm Thursday, July 21 at 8:00pm

They say: “A Man. A Squirrel. A Controversial Theory. The must see absurdist psychosocial thought experiment of the season. In a battle of wits with Sciurus carolinensis, Charles Darwin struggles to order the universe while musing on matters trivial and insignificant.”

Greg’s Take: Fringe—and, really, I suppose any species of artistic expression—can be sorted into two families: those works that swing for the fences in an attempt to address the Big Questions, and those that just want to hang out. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with a light-hearted comedy that’s only after a few guffaws, but in my book it’s always more impressive to see a Fringe show work as diligently as Squirrel, or The Origin of a Species to say something profound about the human condition. It’s massive in the scope of ideas it tries to encompass: In under an hour the script touches on mortality, art, science, love, evolution, identity, trust, fulfillment, dinosaurs, Walt Disney, the World Wrestling Federation, and Anthony Weiner. While all this doesn’t add up to the Big Answer, the ideas are good enough and the packaging sleek enough that by the end of the show, that shortcoming is totally forgivable.

The script was written by Michael Merino and divides its dialogue between an American Gray Squirrel and Charles Darwin in cargo shorts. As the Squirrel, Carlos Bustamante contemplates art while Ian LeValley’s Darwin contemplates science, and together their relationship evolves according to Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development. If that sounds complicated it’s because it absolutely is, but the acting is crisp and the dialogue streamlined, enough so that Squirrel’s overall effect is like running through a Baskin-Robbins of ideas rather than being piled down with philosophy textbooks. The complexity becomes part of the fun, rather than an obstacle.

LeValley and Bustamante are both excellent actors with finely tuned timing and genuine chemistry, but Merino’s words are the real stars of the play. His script is witty and fast-paced, so much so in fact that if you take a break to mull over one of its many salient points you’ll find in a few seconds that you missed at least three more just like it. Jumping back in is not easy, but that isn’t to say that the breakneck speed with which notions fly by in Squirrel is a bad thing; once you learn to kick back and go with the current, it’s quite pleasant.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to all this. It’s very rare to find a show this clever that doesn’t know it’s this clever, and Squirrel is no exception. Few and far between are the scripts that attempt to address the human condition and don’t have at least one moment where they jump up and down and say “Look at me, look at me, look at how smart I am.” The moment where the Squirrel turns to Darwin and tells him that his running narration—the one required by the script—is obnoxious is just such a moment, and easily could have been omitted.

All told, Squirrel doesn’t fully get where it’s going. However, taking into account that where it was going was to plumb the depths of human relationships and explain mankind’s place in the universe, getting as far as it does still makes for a damn fine show. It has wit and charm to burn rounding out all of its navel-gazing, and besides, I don’t think the Fringe festival play that adequately answers those questions even exists. Anybody who tells you they’ve seen it is lying to you.

See it if: You like to contemplate the meaning of life, tempered with squirrel jokes.

Skip it if: You just want to hang out.