Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Four Plays at the Contemporary American Theater Festival
The Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) was founded in 1991 on the campus of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the oldest town in the state. After COVID-19 forced a hiatus beginning in 2020, the festival returned to live performance this July, presenting six plays–five world premieres–in three campus venues. Here is a review of four of them.
Whitelisted, by Chisa Hutchinson, starts out amusing and becomes increasingly tense as a self-possessed young white woman (Kate MacCluggage) tries to cope with inexplicable events in her new apartment in a gentrifying neighborhood of Brooklyn (sleek decor by David M. Barber). Director Kristin Horton ably emphasizes the growing terror of the originally self-possessed woman, whose job is making artisan dollhouses and furnishings–as she plagues the local police (Kirby Davis, Derek Long) and becomes suspicious of her security consultant (Carlo Alban).
Sheepdog, a two-hander by Kevin Artigue, examines the supportive and loving relationship between two Cleveland police officers, white Ryan (Doug Harris) and Black Amina (Sarah Ellen Stephens), and the stress they face when Ryan is involved in a fatal shooting incident. The playwright uses a "rewind" and "fast forward" effect to transition between scenes, the reason for which gradually becomes clear. Stephens and Harris have a strong and believable chemistry as they examine their attitudes and emotions, guided by director Melissa Crespo.
The House of the Negro Insane, by Terence Anthony, exhumes the forgotten history of state institutions for Black people considered "insane or idiotic." Director Cheryl Lynn Bruce plays up the claustrophobia as longtime inmate Attius (majestic Jefferson A. Russell) slowly establishes connections with outspoken patient Effie (CG) and sick child Madeleine (Lenique Vincent), while Henry (Christopher Halliday), a poor white man who oversees inmate work projects, deals with his own demons. The play takes its time but ultimately hits hard.
The Fifth Domain, by Victor Lesniewski, is a convoluted thriller about threats to the world's cyber infrastructure. Troy (Dylan Kammerer) is a former NSA employee who joins a third-party effort to eliminate the unseen vulnerabilities that could allow catastrophic disruptions of information and power grids. But who's playing who? Director Kareen Fahmy capably toggles among four perspectives: besides Troy, there's Lena (Kathryn Tkel), still at NSA; Naveed (Aby Moongamackel), a cryptic independent consultant; and Mel Li (standout Alexandra Palting), a Chinese national with her own agenda.
This year's schedule also includes Babel by Jacqueline Goldfinger, directed by Sharifa Yasmin, and Ushuaia Blue by Caridad Svich, directed by Jessi D. Hill.
Performances at the Contemporary American Theater Festival continue through July 31, 2022, in three venues on the campus of Shepherd University, Shepherdstown WV. For tickets and schedule information, please call 681-240-2283 or visit catf.org.
The House of the Negro Insane
The Fifth Domain