Fringe 2011: Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Fantastical Capital Balloon Ride

I’m reviewing seven plays over the course of the 2011 Capital Fringe Festival, in collaboration with DC Theatre Scene. Get your Fringe button and join me!

True experimental theater breaks down the divide of expectations between performer and audience. Extroverts usually love this. Introverts, not so much. No surprise then that the long-form improvisation Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Fantastical Capital Balloon Ride positively delighted me. It’s like a sociological seminar on human nature, challenging you (ever so subtly) to actually be interested in the people around you.

Interested in your fellow audience members instead of the actors? Outrageous! The evening I saw the performance, one woman seemed almost hostile and offended by the nontraditional premise (though she may have warmed to it by the end). As your ears pick up on the whispering of Cecily (Kelly A. Jennings) and Gwendolyn (Karen Getz), circling round the perimeters of the theater, loopily costumed in Victorian crinolines, you begin to realize – they are talking about you. Get ready. Actual interaction can’t be far behind.

Long-form improv can be an incredible art. Jennings and Getz have got the requirements in abundance – with fearless intelligence and lightning quick reactions they mold the action into an intriguing hour, making random connections between people seem like cohesive observations about life. Well, they are. Each performance will be different (though I suspect there will always be at least one person unwilling to engage), depending on the mix of audience members, their backgrounds, and their willingness to share. Though the construct – two Victorian time travelers discovering 21st century culture – remains constant, no two experiences will be the same. Expect to be peppered with questions about your life and beliefs, take notes, perform even – give yourself over to it, and at the end you’ll find your mind open to those philosophical queries that both enchant and provoke. Why are we here? Are we connected? What’s life all about?

The minor flaw in this improv diamond is the location, a traditional theater inside the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church. I would’ve loved to have seen this – I mean, participated in this – in a less restrictive environment, perhaps in the round in a more intimate space, or even mingling around the Gypsy Bar itself. But Jennings and Getz’s theatrical experiment transcends the confines to continue in your mind after the show itself (it really is a balloon ride!). I left filled with the desire to continue the conversation, to talk til sunrise with friends and strangers, high on connections and the knowledge that other people can be just as fascinating as any performance.

We’re all performing in a long-form improv, after all.

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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2 thoughts on “Fringe 2011: Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Fantastical Capital Balloon Ride

  1. Hi, Jenn.
    Nice article. One (stage management) note: they were in hoops not crinolines. Crinolines are the poofy taffeta things.
    I enjoyed being in/around/at the performance as well. Deacon has continued to tell people about it & after the show, he informed Kelly that he loved her.
    Nice getting to know you a bit. It wouldn’t have been the same without you.

  2. Janice! You are so right, of course, they wore hoops not crinolines. It was so wonderful to be part of the experience with you. Actually very inspiring, and Deacon was a delight. Next time you come down to DC let me know and I will be sure to show you and your family the best spots for coffee and tea!