BWW Review: WET's Absurdist Political Thriller B Ticks on Too Long Before Exploding
Any good play wants to contain a solid beginning, middle, and end. But you know the old adage, give them a strong ending and they'll forgive a lot. But what happens when a one-act, one hour and 35-minute show just has a strong middle? I'll tell you, a lot of me checking my watch near the end and an audience not sure if the play was over since there were two possible endings and no curtain call. Such was the case with Washington Ensemble Theatre's current production of "B", the absurdist political thriller from Guillermo Calderon.
In "B", the "B" stands for "bomb" although since that reference is only made once in the play, it should be called "Cheese" or "Cow" as that's the most used code word for the device that Alejandra and Marcela (Sophie Franco and Klarissa Marie Robles) are waiting to be delivered. These two young Chilean anarchists are holed up in their apartment, which they have decorated to look like Marcela's birthday celebration, awaiting their sole "party guest", Jose Miguel (Craig Peterson) to arrive with their "cheese" ... er ... "cow" ... er ... "present". And to keep their identities safe, all three wear masks as the hand off occurs. But things don't go as planned. First there's the nosey neighbor Carmen (Shermona Mitchell) who keeps interrupting and then there's the problem that the ladies wanted to make a statement with their "cheese" and a lot of noise but Jose Miguel has his own agenda and has made a more lethal "cheese".
Director Jay O'Leary has taken the piece and amped up the absurdist nature of it by accentuating the party aspect of the setting, helped out by the clean set from Lex Marcos and stylized costumes from Ricky German, which helps keep the humor of the piece alive. But once the play devolves into monologuing, not much can help it. Calderon suffers from not knowing how to communicate what his characters want or are feeling without having them stop all flow or action and monologue their own story. Which he does for all three main characters in succession. And in my opinion monologuing is the last resort of lazy writers and super villains. Especially here where the information conveyed wasn't that complex yet droned on and on redundantly. Come on, we've got their motives, now get back to the story!
The cast manages to engage although they too tend to fall into the traps of the droning. Each one, as they're delivering their monologues needs to be more invested in their own story if we're going to be. Peterson and Franco only falter a bit when theirs become lists but Robles as she's describing the death of her best friend seemed not really to care much as the story went on and on. In other scenes, however, all three are thoroughly engaged and on point as they banter back and forth, and I especially loved the straight forward yet super expressive delivery from Peterson who has to deliver much of his dialog from behind a mask showing no facial expression. Mitchell, as always, breezes into her few scenes like a typhoon of fresh air and owns the place. So much so, that she actually garnered applause after one of her breeze in/breeze out moments.
Honestly, the show could have worked better without as many monologues and with some serious editing. It's an interesting look at a horrifying task through a comic lens but the lens needs some cleaning. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Washington Ensemble Theatre's production of "B" an "I checked my watch too many times" MEH+. It has its moments and it certainly has an interesting look, but it's muddied with way too much exposition.
"B" from Washington Ensemble Theatre performs at 12th Ave Arts through January 28th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.washingtonensemble.org.