Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
In the midst of a seething summer in Washington and widespread anxiety about the future, sometimes the best thing to do is go into an air-conditioned space and laugh along with a lot of other people. The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre has returned to the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company space to help, offering improvisational sketch comedy served up fresh at each performance.
The structure of Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre's current show, Damned If You Do, is similar to the one the company used in its previous visit to Woolly two years ago, We Know How You Die!. The self-described "four gorgeous women" of the castAlex Dickson, Monique Moses, Shannon O'Neill, and Molly Thomasinvite audience members to join in the act, then select one to interview and use the person's responses as part of an extended riff on his or her life. Obviously, no two shows will be the same. (The program also lists a male cast member, Connor Ratliff, who may appear in subsequent performances.)
On press night, the company chose a young African-American woman who works two jobs, in a facility for victims of domestic violence and a shelter for the homeless. She spoke about enjoying self-described "black nerd" things like playing video games with her mother and going to science fiction fan conventions, spending time with her sister, and dealing with both lovable and exasperating co-workers.
The four performers then used the woman's words (and a few bits of description from other contributing audience members) to act out two different paths for her future. In one, she's attending a friend's wedding in Pennsylvania; in the other, she has to choose between spending time on a nude beach with her partner or roleplaying with a fellow nerd. The laughs come from the absurdity of the situations and the unlikely way the performers blend the volunteer's words into something new.
After intermission, the entertainment continues when the women request a slogan from another audience member. "Don't wait for things to happen" came from a man, recently out of college, who decided not to apply for a State Department job under the current administration and instead took a job in media analysis. The show is entertaining if not profound, the performers are proficient, and that's good enough for right now.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company