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The Warehouse – 1019 7th Street NW

Remaining Performances:

Sunday, July 18, at 1:45 p.m. Friday, July 23, at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 24, at 11:00 a.m. Sunday, July 25, at 1:30 p.m.

They say: “Five eccentrics in an abandoned town pass the time by manipulating each other out of a fortune. This absurd comedy offers a glimmer of hope to a world where money has become an all-too-pervasive problem.”

Derek’s Take: Propelled by playwright Robert Cousins’ frenetic script, the University of Maryland‘s own battle Western Civ itself in the proudly absurd How the Money Goes. The story, as advanced in a saliva-spewing fury by its five nameless leads, occurs either in a remote town, bomb shelter, asylum, or black hole. Or maybe it’s just a stupid play, put on for our amusement. They’re just there, okay? Suck on that, audience.

Whatever the locale, the funhouse plot hinges on the Protagonist’s (a.k.a, “One” or Anna Lynch) quest to get her money back. The play opens with One being carried onstage accompanied by the solemn yet daft intonations of the cast: “This is a funeral.” As she’s laid to rest, her one-time assistant and now arch-nemesis (“Five” or Elizabeth R. Mann) demands a reading of One’s will, which on execution shall transfer the entirety of the group’s wealth to Five. It’s only the latest move in an endless game played to enliven their otherwise easy, champagne-swilling lives. Then, on cue as part of the usual sequence, One wakes up.

But this time, she’s developed a stubborn amnesia and is clueless to the goings-on in this Wild West carnival. She needs everything explained – good thing for the Fringe-sters in the hot-box theater – and enlists her Friend (“Two” via Hectorlyne Wuor) and attorney to outline the trial and bribery scheme required to repatriate her fortune. What follows is a madcap play-within-a-play cum fundraiser which reveals the scheming behind One’s death and the complicity of her so-called Friend.

The players deftly embrace Cousins’ ever-shifting reality and bring radioactive life to a story that has the feeling of a caper yet offers no hope of actual resolution. Their characters are so heaped with conflicting motivations that the only truth is whatever the script calls for them to say next.

In one scene, Five shares a table and cocktails with Three (Emery Hamani), the Double Agent; they are plotting to rig One’s trial but also conspire against Three’s alter-ego, who in turn repossesses Three’s body and spouts digressions as the plotters continue their treachery in situ. Who’s who? What’s that again? Who cares seems to be more to the point.

It’s all part of a smackdown on rampant commercial culture and the anything-goes pursuit of money that, in Cousins’ world, inexorably comes with it. Far better, then, to “trade the game of life for the life of the game,” as the Doctor/Seer/Judge Four (Thony Bienvenudo Mena) puts it, than to admit humanity’s slavery to the Cult of Mammon. This sad commentary belies an otherwise joyous and whimsical romp, sustained throughout by a relentlessly clever script, strong performances, and the energetic staging of director Ashley Duncan. There’s just something Eden-esque about a place where fruit is currency, lettuce packing material, and purple hallucinogenic eggs the source of dreams.

See it if: You enjoy parsing breathless, Kevin Smith-inspired dialog.

Skip it if: You actually Fear the Turtle.