Increasingly, theaters are seeking ways to involve audiences in their presentations to break down barriers that traditional productions might pose, especially for young or inexperienced attendees.
“Beertown” at Raleigh Little Theatre, a collaboration with Washington, D.C.-based theater group dog and pony dc, immerses audience members in its town meeting premise from the moment they enter the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. After spreading out their potluck desserts (suggested but not required), attendees are met by actors playing officials of fictional Beertown. They mingle and chat, drumming up excitement for the evening’s opening of the town’s time capsule.
Beertown’s mayor calls the meeting to order and explains that every five years the capsule’s contents are examined for relevance, asking the townspeople (i.e., each night’s audience) to vote on what to add and what to take out.
Before getting to the voting, attendees say the Pledge of Allegiance, sing the town hymn (words provided in the program), and witness pageant-like scenes depicting town history. There are also speeches and various ceremonial presentations, all meant to give the audience enough background to feel comfortable speaking up during the actual voting.
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The event’s purpose is commendable and the amount of hard work put into it is admirable. The sections devoted to capsule proposals and voting bring on honest, often passionate audience responses (with help from some planted “townspeople”). The actors’ fine improvisational abilities keep things connected and on message.
But the show is mainly parody, reproducing the bumbling speeches and amateur theatrics of a civic pride ceremony that amuse in short doses but can’t sustain the event’s 2 1/2 hours. Director Rachel Grossman has the actors stay in high-intensity, caricature mode, each with a gimmicky characteristic that wears thin.
Not being fully scripted, the production doesn’t fulfill normal expectations of tight pacing, engaging plot and developed characters. When several serious social and political issues come up, they seem out of place in the otherwise comedy-sketch approach.
Whether such a production brings better appreciation for theater is debatable. There were those at Friday’s opening who appeared to be captivated but also those indicating boredom. There’s worthwhile material in “Beertown” but it’s surrounded by repetitive, sometimes silly stretches that become barriers to full enjoyment.
Where: Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. May 12-14, 19-21; 3 p.m. May 15, 22
Tickets: $22 (seniors/students $18)
Info: 919-821-3111 or raleighlittletheatre.org