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THEATER: A ‘Circle’ of Woolly fun
You may not fully understand “Full Circle,” but that should not stand in the way of a good time.
Going with the flow is definitely in order with Woolly Mammoth’s roaming, multimedia movable feast of a production directed by Michael Rohd. Forget about the comfort zone. Audience members mingle with the actors and the action, and the play makes fine use of the entire Woolly Mammoth building.
Even when you go into the theater proper, there are surprises — in Act One, you are led into the theater only to find most of the seats have been replaced by floor cushions that read “Defy Authority.”
Freewheeling, confrontational, unexpected — these words best describe Charles L. Mee’s fun and frequently irreverent rewriting of history and Bertolt Brecht’s play, “The Caucasian Chalk Circle.” Set in Berlin at the time of the Wall’s fall in 1989, the comedy evokes the chaos and opportunities present in the New World Order and makes connections to the current economic crisis and fears that President Obama is taking our nation into socialism.
Amid all this sweeping change, “Full Circle” also focuses on the human struggle as three very different mother figures fight for custody of a baby abandoned during the riots and melees.
The production is a hit parade of Woolly favorites past and present, including artistic director Howard Shalwitz, who plays the pretentious and egocentric Heiner Muller, leader of the Berliner Ensemble theater company. Mr. Shalwitz’s self-consciously arty performance in a video that opens up the show sets the mock-comic tone for the rest of the evening.
Naomi Jacobson is a standout as a Pamela Harriman-like socialite who breezily zips along as if on an avant-garde tour of East Germany and who indulges her crush on Warren Buffett (Michael Willis, a stitch as the laconic, aphorism-spouting financier).
Kate Eastwood Norris plays a hard-partying East German hausfrau with frowzy aplomb, and Sarah Marshall transforms herself into the decrepit German Democratic Republic Secretary Erich Honecker and is virtually unrecognizable later on as the thirtyish lug Helmut. Michael Russotto and Daniel Escobar display lithe physical comedy as a pair of bumbling police. On the flip side, Jessica Frances Dukes contributes a portrait of goodness and shining idealism as Dulle Griet.
An audience last week seemed often scared to death at the unconventional aspects of the play — people seemed comically uncomfortable at the idea of not sitting in their seats for two hours and placidly watching the action. What does that say about the power of media, of us preferring to stare at a video or computer screen or at something framed within a proscenium, rather than participating in the making of art or the process of political change?
It actually isn’t necessary to always know what’s going on in “Full Circle” or to feel at ease with the way the play is presented. Sometimes, being lost and not knowing can be a profound and entertaining experience.
WHAT: “Full Circle” by Charles L. Mee
WHERE: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 7 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 29
TICKETS: $27 to $62
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