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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

House of Gold

Also see Susan's review of One Night With Fanny Brice

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., makes no bones about what it's trying to do with its latest production, House of Gold by Gregory S. Moss, beginning with a program in the format of a tabloid newspaper. The playwright uses the outlines of a real-life unsolved mystery to shine a gaudy spotlight on America's celebrity culture, parental neglect and mismanagement, and the culpability of the audience in this process, and director Sarah Benson throws it all right in the viewer's face. (Woolly has scheduled a series of talkbacks on these issues following many performances.)

The name JonBenet Ramsey remains in the public mind even now, 14 years after her father discovered the battered, strangled body of the 6-year-old beauty pageant winner in the basement of the family home in Boulder, Colorado. Between the disturbingly adult, flirtatious appearance of the dead child—as depicted in pageant videos shown repeatedly on television news shows—and the apparent wealth and privilege of her parents, JonBenet came to represent America's perverse lust for fame.

Moss begins with the outer trappings of the case: in the aftermath of the murder, the parents, here called simply Man (Michael Russotto) and Woman (Emily Townley), broadcast their breakfast through desk mikes in their eerily white kitchen. Gradually, the audience begins to observe daily reality through the eyes of the victim, known as The Girl and played by the adult Kaaron Briscoe. Clearly, this is a case where the victimized party is both wiser and more resilient than the adults around her, though she needs someone to be her advocate.

Woman sees her daughter as nothing but an extension of herself, so she considers any pageant loss as a personal attack. Man is tense about his job and shares far too much about his sexual past with his child. The Detective on the case (Mitchell Hébert) develops an unhealthy possessiveness about the young victim. The only possible friends The Girl finds are Jasper (Randy Blair), a fat, ungainly white teenager who wants to be just like Richard Pryor, and the creepy Joseph M. Lonely Jr. (James Flanagan).

Moss also makes some interesting peripheral points during the play's 90-minute run time. The neighborhood bullies (Andrew Lincoln, William Hayes Cromartie, Ben Kingsland) use homophobic slurs against Jasper, but the victimized boy attempts to respond in kind and wants "a bitch" he can dominate and tell what to do.

Briscoe's performance is warm-hearted and genuine, avoiding the trap of adults who sometimes "play down" or condescend when portraying children. She's clear-eyed, savvy about how adults manipulate her and the (occasional) benefits she receives in return—but she knows she can't take care of herself by herself. The other performances are more cartoonish, but effective.

David Zinn has created an ingenious, multi-leveled scenic design and appropriately garish costumes.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
House of Gold
November 1st – 28th
By Gregory S. Moss
Man: Michael Russotto
Woman: Emily Townley
The Girl: Kaaron Briscoe
Jasper: Randy Blair
Detective: Mitchell Hébert
Joseph M. Lonely Jr.: James Flanagan
Appolonian Boy 1: Andrew Lincoln
Appolonian Boy 2: William Hayes Cromartie
Appolonian Boy 3: Ben Kingsland
Directed by Sarah Benson
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or www.woollymammoth.net


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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