The Washington Ensemble Theatre (WET) initiated its 11th Season with a world premiere of Josh Conkel’s Sprawl directed by Ali el-Gasseir. The company is quite excited to be giving the first performances on the Studio Stage at the 12th Avenue Arts building. In 90 uninterrupted minutes, this script manages to sample just about every horror AND campy movie cliche.
I cannot say there is a lead, though a couple of the actors are on stage nearly the whole time. The acting was solid, and most of the characters, even in this camped-up setting, stayed in role and delivered credible performances.
The plot is straight forward: while waiting for the first book club meeting in a prototype and unfinished home in a new suburban development somewhere in Western Washington, the real estate agents and their traveling guests find themselves fighting to survive some type of interstellar attack. The attack includes gaping holes in the ground, an infectious bug that turns people into vomiting zombies, and activation of previously placed “walk-ins” to explode in the order of their “activation.” But the relationships themselves are all on the verge of being shattered because of betrayals, rumors, jealousies, secrets, and competitiveness. Welcome to suburbia.
Facing this end-of-the-world are: a pair of suburban real estate agents, very pregnant Shawna (which Samie Spring Detzer handles well), coked up Monique (energetically served up by Laura Hanson), the Williams couple (Justin Huertas and Ben McFadden), the cross-dressing wife of the mayor (Marc Kenison vampin’ and campin’ as Elaine), and a pair of women friends (Leah Salcido Pfenning as Bibi and Jessie Underhill as Heather). Of course, given the genres that are being evoked, there are a pair of military men plus a couple of sub-agents who assist with seating and the filling out of the faux purchase and sale agreement that serves as the playbill—and who are the first to become victims of the attack.
Technically, this is a good play to kick-off the Studio Stage: it has lots of sound, lighting, and other technical effects. Credit to the production team of Joceline Wynn, Stage Manager; Ben Rabin, Technical Director; James Schreck, Sound Designer; and Tristan Roberson, Lighting Designer. One clever device was during the power outages caused by the attack the cast used their cell phones to illuminate their faces and provide a very facile and close-up spotlighting.
Online tickets for the early shows are sold out. If you go in for this type of theater, give the show a chance—just avoid signing any purchase and sale agreements.
Sprawl, by Josh Conkel, directed by Ali el-Gasseir. A Washington Ensemble Theatre production. Runtime 90 minutes, no intermission. Capitol Hill, 12th Avenue Arts Building Studio Stage, 1620 12th Avenue. Thurs-Mon 7:30 PM. Tickets $15 – $25, washingtonensemble.org/tickets. Closes Feb 2.