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Darfur: The Greatest Show on Earth!

Venue: Studio Theatre (Mead Theatre – 1501 14th St. NW)

Remaining Performances:

Friday, July 16, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 21, 10 p.m. Friday, July 23, 8:30 p.m. Sunday, July 25, 1 p.m.

They Say: “A musical journey through one of the most devastating and ignored genocides in human history, ‘DARFUR: The Greatest Show on Earth!’ is a powerhouse musical that uses dark humor and eclectic musical styles to drive home its poignant message of forgiveness, redemption and awareness that leaves the audience breathless in the wake of apathy.”

Dee’s Take: Not quite. Director Keith Hight of the University of Southern Maryland launched an effort to provide performance experience for his students via a script written by John Fitts, a student at Appalachian State University.

As I entered the Mead Theatre, an energetic young actor approached me in Brechtian, fourth-wall-breaking style, urging me to take a balloon-sword.  What ensued was a brief dialogue consisting of pirate talk; “shiver” something or other. Shortly thereafter, the show began and this is what I remember:  ringmasters, Nazis, African villagers, soldiers, some good singing, some not-so-good singing, a few fumbled lines, college actors committed to making lemonade out of lemons, and multiple stories careening on a crash-course for a redundant destination: “Hey, look! Genocide! Do something about it!”

The play attempts to compare two genocides while commenting on American inaction regarding international affairs and cultivation of foreign troubles.  There’s a lot going on, and the problem is that the good actors, good singing and good writing is all drowned out by the bad. For example, in a wonderful scene involving an arms dealer (Billy Thiedeman) and his loyal but obtuse underling, both actors gave upbeat performances with quippy comic delivery and solid vocal stylings. However, the scenes that preceded and followed lacked this interlude’s vigor and cohesion. So, for that matter, does the balance of the production: The actors show promise but the enterprise falls flat.

See it if: You really want to take in a fringe-y fringe show, support college theater programs, and watch some talent without the polish.

Skip it if: You don’t like epic Brechtian plays that batter you over the head with freshman political rhetoric.

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