BWW Review: SHOPWORN at Capital Fringe Festival is a Real Diamond in the Rough
With over 80 plays to choose from, Capital Fringe Festival can be overwhelming for the average theatergoer. There are plenty of good choices ranging from over-the-top comedies to funky experimental dramas to allegories and satires and everything in between. Obviously, with so many offerings, there will be works that fail to execute their artistic vision effectively. Thankfully, Derek Hills's Shopworn, which opened on Tuesday night at Capital Fringe's Orange venue (Christ United Methodist Church), is a true diamond in the rough: a family drama that provides modern commentary without getting too preachy. It is thoroughly delightful and a perfect selection for Fringe veterans and first-timers alike.
Shopworn's premise is a unique spin on the classic "family death brings estranged siblings together" plot device. When their mother passes, the mega-liberal Brooklyn-dwelling Dalton (Gary DuBreuil) and his conservative Robert E. Lee-loving brother Ash (Jesse Marciniak) reunite in their small southern town. The brothers inherit their mother's antique shop, much to the chagrin of faithful and eccentric employee Erica (Rachel Manteuffel) who fears the brothers will change too much of the store. Dalton is already wary of the store before he realizes many pieces are dripping with racial histories including a "mammie" cookie jar and a piggy bank designed to look like a black man guzzling money. Dalton's desire to rid the store of its problematic past only intensifies when his equally liberal African-American girlfriend, Molly (Anika Harden) comes down to comfort her grieving partner. Debates over how to handle the problematic items turns into conversations of how to best acknowledge our personal and ancestral histories when they are anything but rose-colored.
Mr. Hills paints realistic pictures of his characters and gives each of them the chance to chime in with their opinions to create a genuine debate over his play's central themes. These portraits are boosted by dutiful performances from the entire cast. Sure, there were moments when energy lagged or actors stumbled but none were major enough to detract from the evening's enjoyment. It is also worth noting Tuesday was Shopworn's first performance-meaning it should only get tighter and more refined as time passes.
Bryanda Minix keeps action as tight as possible with a steadfast directorial vision. She has helped the show's 80-minute run-time clip along at a serviceable pace. Kelly Cronenberg has dressed the cast with precision, each one characterized by clothing that fits their personalities. Erica has a delightfully odd balloon dress in one of the early scenes which is one of the many highlights of the evening. It's interesting to think about what the search for the many problematic pieces of memorabilia strewn across the stage was like. Searching for racist antiques couldn't have been a comfortable task. And it, hopefully, wasn't a very easy one.
Finding a young production with tons of potential is always thrilling. Finding one that has already tapped into much of that potential is even more satisfying. Hopefully, this is a production that will find life again beyond the Fringe Festival. In the meantime, if you are looking for a surprisingly intimate theater offering during the Festival, Shopworn is an easy choice to make.
Shopworn runs approximately 80 minutes and is playing through July 28 as part of the Capital Fringe Festival. For more information and to purchase tickets click here.
Sam Abney is a Washington, D.C. based arts professional. A native of Arizona, he has happily made D.C. his new home. Sam is a graduate from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and currently works for Arena Stage as a member of their Development team. He is a life-long lover of theater and is excited about sharing his passion with as many people as possible.
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