Latest from the Fringe Festival: Playtime with ‘Holon!’ and satire in ‘Bartleby, the Magical White Coworker’

As the Capital Fringe Festival continues to expand into the Southwest neighborhood around Arena Stage, Roger Catlin goes to church for two shows — or, more specifically, for a playful performance experience and a satire.

“Holon!” 

Area Woman is a performance trio of cheery young women who mix interpretive dance with yoga stances, general flitting about and encouraging a willing audience to join in. In their loosey-goosey performance of “Holon!” at Fringe, they turn the upstairs Thurgood Marshall art gallery at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church into their playground.

They first ask that you record your voice upon entering, which echoes in the performance later. They also request personal belongings be stashed beneath chairs, as on an airplane. But it is Claire Alrich, Sarah Greenbaum and Sadie Leigh who do all the flying — each in their own pastel costumes of yellow, pink or purple.

Appearing first in diaphanous fabric, up and down the aisles, they switch to serious yoga gear and then (after help from audience members holding individual fabric hoops) do a slow change into glittery jackets.

They jokingly warn that we might have to pick a flower, sing a song, meet a neighbor, join in a dance or do their taxes before it’s over, and sure enough most of that happens — all to the quite remarkable live-on-loops music from Meg Lowey, who is able to single-handedly conjure up some pretty complex songs on squeezebox, percussion and tape.

“Holon!”: They make a big deal out of “We’ll tell you what it means later in the show,” so explaining it may be a spoiler. (There’s not much else to hang onto in this play.) Everybody seemed to enjoy joining in on the uncategorizable romp, and nobody had to do taxes.

-Roger Catlin

50 minutes, July 18, 24, 28, 29. St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 555 Water St. SW.

“Bartleby, the Magical White Coworker” 

The aggressive gentrification all around this year’s Capital Fringe site in Southwest D.C. is a good setting for the sly satire “Bartleby, the Magical White Coworker” by Jeff Reiser and Chinwe Nwosu.

The Avoidance Theatre Group production in the vast basement of the Christ United Methodist Church concerns a marketing team run by an empowered African American businesswoman prone to migraines (Lisa Hill-Corley). On her staff: a competent worker (Alyse Hamilton), a suitably eye-rolling intern (Ime Essien) and a white woman (Anna Huntley) who goes overboard trying to ingratiate herself with the women of color.

In work sessions, they remove ethnic connotations from a hair-care product called Cocoa Queen to broaden its appeal, sell a “whole-wheat gluten-free” cereal with the notion that “breakfast is a safe space” and balk at promoting a Southern town with a Confederate statue.

For all of this, they have the input of a bypassing white janitor, who offers homespun ideas the leader likes. As the title indicates, D. Scott Graham’s Bartleby has traits of the Magical Negro of whom Spike Lee once spoke, as well as of the lowly Herman Melville scribe who avoided work by saying “I prefer not to.” Eventually, Bartleby climbs into a tent to retreat, but that’s the kind of outside-the-conference-room thinking that gets the eye of the terrible boss (Casey Ryan Ewell).

There is some wild variation among the performance styles under director Jordyn Nicole and some missed lighting cues. But at its best, “Bartleby” sharply reflects contemporary battle lines.

-Roger Catlin

60 minutes, July 14, 21, 24, 28. Christ United Methodist Church, 900 Fourth St. SW.

All tickets $17, plus a one-time $7 purchase of a Fringe Festival button. 866-811-4111 or capitalfringe.org

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