Saturday, November 10, 2001

Surreal would be the way to describe the rapid-fire scene changes that define Rick Fiori’s comedy “My Presidential Journal,” which opened at the Warehouse Theater last weekend.
On a curtainless stage where characters abruptly run from front to back, hastily changing costumes and props, each scene flows into the next.
The neurotic and nearly hilarious narrative of Devon McGuire (a Washington native played by Mr. Fiori, who also wrote “Journal”) introduces more than 40 characters who inhabited Washington during the 36 days of madness that followed Election Night Nov. 7, 2000.
Devon quickly establishes himself as a perhaps too-freethinking liberal through an intimate monologue with us by wandering, literally, out of the audience to interrupt the play’s opening scene.
The opening scene, a 90-second evening news report, looks and sounds like an absurdly silly chronology of events that made up “the 36 days that gripped the nation.”
Devon invites us into his neurosis, explaining that, for him, the election came down to a single, entirely unrelated event: the loss of a gold medal by black American figure skater Debi Thomas to German Katarina Witt in the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Devon’s melodramatic obsession with Miss Thomas (Grace Eboigbe) and her failure to capture gold from what he calls the heinous “didn’t even deserve to be in the Olympics” Katarina Witt (Sarah Wiggin) works as a catalyst for the entire play.
In sketch after riotous sketch exploring the relationships between Democrats and Republicans traversing the streets of Washington during the election, lovable Devon suffers headache after riotous headache and seizures. Yes, seizures that fully sprawl him out on the stage, to be visited in a dream world by the two quarreling figure skaters.
We enter the dream world along with Miss Thomas and Miss Witt, who twirl and spin, manifesting the inner ticking behind an identity crisis that takes over Devon’s brain halfway through the play and leads to a mind-boggling catharsis.
Without ruining it for you, let’s just say the crisis involves, to the dismay of Devon’s chain-smoking closest friend, Janice (also Miss Wiggin), the conflict of whether he should be a Democrat or a Republican.
At one unpredictable turn, it lands Devon in jail. He is visited there by his wildly disapproving Catholic mother (played in this scene by Miss Wiggin and in others by Miss Eboigbe and Toni Rae Brotons).
The identity crisis also lands Devon on the sidewalk outside the vice president’s mansion touting a sign that reads, “I’m Black, I’m Woman, and Al’s President.” Standing beside him in the scene is Boom Box Girl (Miss Brotons), whose smooth demeanor casts light on how truly lost our poor Devon has become.
Of all the characters and skits “My Presidential Journal” jumps through, the show most likely is stolen by actor Colby Codding, who plays almost as many characters as there were wild twists and turns in the 2000 election.
His most jocular role is as Devon’s nephew, a football captain at “a high school in Virginia” whose blissful ignorance offers a slamming juxtaposition to Devon’s hyperanalysis of everything going on around him.
From the handcrafted signs hanging in the hallway of the theater with messages such as “Gore’s a Bore” and “How many ballots go in the lockbox?” through Devon’s life-altering realizations at the play’s finale, “My Presidential Journal” is well-written and worth going to see.
It also nails life in the nation’s capital, from nuances such as avoiding Alabama tourists who want their picture taken “exactly where the new president will be standing at the inauguration” to the way politics seeps into every profession in Washington, including Devon’s job as a customer-service representative at a malpractice law firm on Capitol Hill.
The play beckons us to use our imaginations. That’s not too tough, as the black-box set and simple props come to life through magnificent and well-timed choreography. Speeding scene changes and a steady flow of comic action produce an alacrity, gripping the curtainless stage for a full 80 minutes.
The play’s one downfall is that at times the scene changes are a bit too drastic. Using five actors to play 40 characters can be hilarious, but it also can confuse audience members.
However, much of the convolution caused by the wild plot shifts and seeming chaos onstage is overshadowed by the truly fast pace with which the scenes change.
Watching the play unfold is like literally jumping from journal entry to journal entry.

* * *
WHAT: “My Presidential Journal”
WHERE: Warehouse Theater, 1021 Seventh St. NW
WHEN: 8 p.m. Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays through Nov. 27
PHONE: 202/783-3933

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