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BWW Review: SHIPWRECK at Woolly Mammoth

BWW Review: SHIPWRECK at Woolly Mammoth

We never can seem to catch a break from the president, and a night out at Woolly Mammoth's American premiere of Anne Washburn's SHIPWRECK is no exception. A history play about 2017, SHIPWRECK follows a group of liberals who gather at a remodeled farmhouse, a young man adopted from Kenya reckoning with his connection to his family and his country, and the fallout from Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey.

Directed with aplomb by Saheem Ali, SHIPWRECK poses big questions about our current political moment even as it draws us into the recent past. There are striking moments where the stars align and theatre goers are treated to the signature Woolly Mammoth experience: a perfect marriage of award winning acting, innovative set, lighting, sound, and costume design, and thought provoking dialogue. There are also moments when the Washburn's cumbersome script tries to tackle too much in its three hour runtime.

The plot easily careens through time and space, while keeping us mostly rooted in 2017. Seven friends come to dinner at Jools (Anna Ishida) and Richard's (James Whalen) recently converted farmhouse. As the snow falls, the friends are cut off from their devices and their constant news consumption. The seven liberals--revealed to be a sampling of various personas of the political left--spend the night rehashing old debates, interrogating each other's assumptions, and wondering aloud how it's possible Trump hasn't resigned by now. The drama in the house pauses long for enough for Mark (Mikéah Ernest Jennings), a Kenyan boy adopted by a white family, to illustrate the complexities of growing up black in a very small, very white town and his struggles to find common ground with the decisions of his family members. Washburn's lilting language combined with Jennings' emotive force elicited spontaneous-- and well-earned-- applause.

With Saheem Ali's incisive direction, this ensemble does exemplary work. They manage to wrangle complex ideas and sentences, while doing their best not to trip over the oftentimes overwrought dialogue. Jon Hudson Odom is particularly impressive as the gay lawyer, Louis, whose conflicting feelings about the 2016 election spark some of the night's biggest controversy. Jeff Biehl (Jim), Jennifer Dundas (Allie), Alyssa Keegan (Teresa) and Tom Story (Andrew) round out the exceptional company.

The production value is predictably, but still notably, high. The technical acuity of scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado, lighting designer Colin K. Bills, sound designer Palmer Heffernan, projection designer Jared Mezzocchi, is on full display. I won't spoil the surprises in store, but suffice to say there are a handful of moments that will make your jaw drop.

SHIPWRECK is a radical play that makes visible the anxieties of our current moment. Despite the protracted script, it is a show that demands to be seen.

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

"Shipwreck, A History Play About 2017" runs through March 8, 2020, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Washington, DC. Find tickets here.

Photo Credit: Teresa Castracane


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