If you plan to see Beertown, currently onstage at Raleigh Little Theatre's Gaddy-Goodwin Theatre, it might help to know what you're getting into. Beertown is not, strictly, a theatre piece. Well, it is and it isn't. What it really is, is a town meeting. You are not at RLT to see Beertown; you are at Beertown's Playhouse to take part in the town's 20th Quinquennial Time Capsule Celebration. Beertown, a small community which sprang up around the B&T Brewery, on the banks of the Thakiwaki River, now holds its Time Capsule Celebration every five years. This is the 20th Quinquennial, at which Beertonians will review the contents of the time capsule, decide what to keep, and decide what to add for 2016, the 100th anniversary of the event. As a member of Beertown, you receive a 20th Quinquennial Celebration tee-shirt, take part in the potluck supper, and join in the festivities of the Time Capsule Celebration.
Beertown is the brainchild of dog & pony dc, founded and based in the country's capital. Beertown won a nomination for a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play in 2011, and the entire show was boxed up and brought down to RLT, where it was cast and produced anew, directed by Rachel Grossman, dog & pony's ensemble director. Grossman brought with her two dog & pony cast members: Wyckham Avery, who plays Beertown's Mayor, Megan Soch; and Jon Reynolds, who plays Arthur Whiting, editor of the Beertown Bugle. The other six members of the Beertown cast are RLT regulars.
With much pomp and circumstance, the 20th Quinquenniel is called to order by Mayor Soch. As noted by Ombudsman Edwin McFarlan (Greg Guiliano), 127 Beertonians attend this event. Over the course of the next two-and-a-half hours, we open, examine, discuss, vote, and reinstall all the items in Beertown's time capsule. This includes a song about the creation of the B&T Brewery, by the youngest member of the Daughters of Ninkasi, Michael Soch (Tosin Olufolabi), and Joann Ryals (Cheryl Edson), town librarian and archivist. We also all join in singing the town hymn, from lyrics included in the program, from a poem written in 1895 and placed to music in 1912. The time capsule itself, which looks like a big keg of beer, was first interred in 1896 at the newly-built Town Hall. The entire history of the town and the capsule and its contents are discussed as we proceed with the rites of the Quinquennial.
Now, when I first became aware of just what I was getting into, I felt a touch ripped off. I had come, after all, to see some theatre, not to attend a town meeting. I have attended town meetings, and they are dull, dull, dull. But as things proceeded apace and we got into what was inside the capsule, we had some real discussions about the capsule's items. Members of the audience were actually taking part in deciding what was in this capsule and whether or not it should stay there. We all voted on each piece inside. Some of the discussion was being led by "prominent Beertonians" like Karine Oppenheim (Aliana Ramos) and David Guy (Justin Scranton), but a lot of it was just folks discussing items of history and whether their place in said history was valid. In other words, what were we going to remember, and what were we going to forget? It was an interesting proposition, and the debate was sometimes rather heated.
The entirety of the Gaddy-Goodwin Theatre had been redone to reflect the fact that we were not in Raleigh, but in Beertown. The posters on the walls, of previously done shows, were shows done by the Beertown Playhouse. There was a mural of Beertown on the wall inside the theater. The folks controlling the lights (designed by Colin K. Bills) and the sound were Beertonians, and got to vote on each item along with the rest of us. In creating the entire history of a fictional village, dog & pony dc has created a pretty fair show. And at the end of the show, not only did I come away with a spiffy tee-shirt of Beertown, I also carried away with me a renewed interest in history and why we dwell on it.
Raleigh Little Theatre and dog and pony dc have joined forces to recreate a pretty remarkable little experiment in interactive theatre. It is an inspired idea, recreated with all required solemnity and pomp. We came away pretty glad we were able to participate, and also pondering on what must have taken place at Quinquennials prior to this one. It is an inspiring use of theatre as history, and you might just have a high old time taking part in it.
Beertown continues through Sunday, May 22. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.