Miami’s The Project [theatre] does drama differently. The 4-year-old company produces its work sporadically, but when a Project project turns up, you can bet it will be an immersive piece aimed at engaging both theater fans and a non-traditional, younger audience.
Though it has focused so far on original work like Beer & Cigarettes and Urban Apparel, under new executive artistic director Stephen Kaiser the company is now doing Gina Gionfriddo’s U.S. Drag. Winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the play follows a pair of Vassar grads, Angela (Liz Dikinson) and Allison (Gladys Ramirez), as they pursue fortune and fame in Manhattan. But their golden ticket to both just might be tracking down a thug named Ed and claiming a $100,000 reward.
The play’s title, a term used by William S. Burroughs in Naked Lunch, evokes a combination of restlessness and malaise. Angela and Allison are suffering from it, but so are the other characters.
In the women’s orbit are Evan (Ben Sandomir), a neighborhood watch leader who warns against helping others (that’s how Ed gets close to his victims); James (Peter Mir), a highly emotional, self-styled victim advocate; Christopher (Jeremiah Musgrove), an author whose descriptions of imagined childhood abuse in his “creative non-fiction” work have alienated his stunned parents; Ned (Theo Reyna), a charmless and friendless Wall Street guy who demands Angela and Allison help find him a wife; and Mary (Jannelys L. Santos), an Ed victim who sports a shiner and a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Staged by Kaiser in a refurbished storefront space at 5600 NW Seventh Ave., on the eastern edge of Liberty City, the production immerses the audience in Angela and Allison’s New York world — crashing on Ned’s sofa, going to neighborhood watch meetings, hitting a bar and a club, going out on a dispiriting double date, hanging in Christopher’s hotel room. As a spectator, you might interact a bit. Or not.
Gionfriddo, who writes for TV’s Law & Order and House of Cards, has had greater success with her post-U.S. Drag plays After Ashley and Becky Shaw. U.S. Drag is a dark satire about a pair of shallow, privileged women whose mantra is “me, me, me.” The script takes some deft potshots at the thirst for easy, unearned fame and the way we lurch toward fulfillment without a road map. But the play is finally more rambling than pointed.
The acting is solid, often deliberately exaggerated to emphasize the characters’ comically deep self-involvement. Reyna’s cranky, condescending Ned and Musgrove’s amusingly ridiculous Christopher are vividly rendered narcissists. Dikinson’s Angela is a pragmatic cynic, and Ramirez gets to go on a little journey when Allison briefly morphs into a Stepford Wife wannabe.
Ed, the unseen attacker who precipitates much of the play’s action, might not be an actual human being. He might be a concept, a symbol of the menace and unease that creeps into our dreams or the fears that stalk us in the 21st century. Experiencing U.S. Drag in The Project’s latest pop-up space — though there’s a fenced parking lot with a security guard behind the building, the area at night isn’t a place where you’d want to be walking alone — makes that aspect of immersive theater just a little too real.
If you go
What: ‘U.S. Drag’ by Gina Gionfriddo.
Where: The Project [theatre] production, 5600 NW Seventh Ave., Miami.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 21.
Cost: $30 in advance, $35 at door.
Information: 786-505-4027 or www.project-theatre.com.