Fort Fringe – The Bedroom, 610 L Street, NW

Thursday, July 14, 6 p.m.
Saturday, July 16, 10 p.m.
Saturday, July 23, 8 p.m.
Sunday, July 24, 6:15 p.m.

They say: “A volunteer firefighter believes a fatal motorcycle crash on a rural Virginia road guides his own destiny. A standardized test instructor explains why he didn’t stop. A life insurance salesman has a moment of clarity in a run-down kitchen.”

Ian’s Take: Three men each have a story to tell. There’s an incident that ties them all together, a motorcycle crash that has claimed a life. Writer Joel Jones portrays all three of these characters as they relate to the audience their part in the crash and its aftermath. This doesn’t feel like a personal piece, as with so many one-person shows, but rather a beautifully structured and written short story, performed aloud. And one week into this year’s Fringe, it’s my favorite thing that I’ve seen so far.

Jones’ three characters live in the same area, but otherwise couldn’t be more different. One is a jaded life-insurance salesman no longer content to sell policies that will only benefit his employer. “We don’t hate our jobs,” he tells us. “We hate our bosses.” That hatred leads him to some professionally questionable, but ethically laudable actions.

Another is a trucker-cap-wearing redneck with a great deal more goodwill than marketable skills. He cares for his mother, who supports him financially as he spends most of his time volunteering with the fire department, the Civil Air Patrol, a community search and rescue team, and listening to the police scanner for accidents. He has a good heart, but one suspects most of those organizations humor him as a mild nuisance more than an asset.

The third man is a Ph.D. scientist, reduced to administering standardized tests so that his wife, a researcher in the same field, could pursue her career at the expense of his. He’d do so gladly except for the fact that his wife has a tendency to lord her important work over him, and their current attempts to become parents in their 40s are hampered not just by biology, but by his growing resentment.

In a tightly written 37-minute show, Jones manages to create three distinct and remarkably whole characters, changing only his accent and a single prop for each of them. As they relate their stories, it only becomes apparent very gradually exactly how they’re involved with the accident, and Jones cleverly leaves just enough ambiguity in the telling so that we are left to guess—-often incorrectly—-as to the nature of their connection to one another. He has a great gift for naturally including unusual details that seem like throwaway character notes, but that then become vital parts of the story later on. He is effortlessly funny, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, yet draws the stories together to a somber and thoughtful conclusion.

See it if: You enjoy watching puzzle pieces fall into place.

Skip it if: Stories are for reading, not reciting.