“Warning: Swampoodle may contain eye-popping feats, roller derby smackdowns, big-track machinery, brass band music and scenes of a spectacular nature.”
It’s been two days since I’ve seen Swampoodle, the joint production by Irish company The Performance Corporation and DC’s own Solas Nua, a site-specific piece at the historic Uline Arena. I think the warning above that appears on all the press materials needs to be revised as follows:
“Warning: the Uline Arena may contain extreme mold spores, dust mites galore, pitted concrete, peeling paint, and the olfactory remnants of its days as a trash transfer station.”
Joking aside, my allergies are still in an uproar after ninety minutes inside the Uline, and if you suffer from mold allergies, I really do think you should know that it will affect you. But as fellow WLDC author Brian noted earlier, the arena has an amazing history and Swampoodle aims to bring that to life with its promenade style theater experience. It succeeds occasionally with scenes of evocative beauty that take advantage of the arena’s haunting decay.
When the doors roll open and you enter the darkened arena, its majestic demise is both shocking and breathtaking, like a Grecian temple gone to seed. In its heyday the arena could seat some 9,000 people – just glimpses of the bleachers remain as concrete steps in the corners. No wonder it was also at one time called the Washington Coliseum. As your eyes get accustomed to the dark you notice the peeling paint on the immense vaulted ceiling above, as a man in the distance (Michael John Casey as a Greek chorus-style janitor) calls you forward, his voice echoing across the gloom. It’s an impressive sight that will stay with me for a long time.
But as the performance went on and actors raced back and forth shouting about “the show must go on!” and “it’s a wonderful show!” portraying a forced anxiety over the lack of a script, well, I started to turn away from them and look to the Uline itself, its massive decline more evocative than anything else. Perhaps that’s the point, a friend remarked as we walked away afterwards to the gleaming New York Avenue metro, new office buildings and a shining Harris Teeter sprouting up around the dying concrete cavern. Perhaps there’s no point at all. Continue reading