Opening Nights: Babs the Dodo

It's hard out there for a spokesperson.

"Hope is not the thing with feathers," Woody Allen concluded after reading Emily Dickinson's poem that argues the contrary. "The thing with feathers has turned out to be my nephew, and I must take him to a specialist in Zurich." Babs the Dodo, in its world premiere via Washington Ensemble Theatre, hopes to be that Dada, that dopey and endearing. But once your 80 minutes are gone, what you're left with is a strong urge to ask Yale playwriting grad Michael Mitnick who the hell slipped him a roofie while he was writing the third act. His play is daring enough at its most conventional—after all, we're watching a small-screen celebrity deal with the travails of turning 50. It's rare enough to see a 50-year-old woman as the protagonist of anything these days. And because Jessica Trundy has designed a Rubik's cube of a set, we're able to watch home-shopping hawker Babs Gillespie (Marty Mukhalian) sit down and sob while on the show that follows her, "Handsome" Chris (John Abramson) shills a variety of objects of questionable value. My favorite: the No. 2 pencil, a bargain at a nickel, plus $8.95 for shipping. Babs catches fire with the introduction of a guileless ornithologist (Charles Norris) and the network boss, Jocelyn (Hannah Victoria Franklin), who does for cable TV what Miranda Priestly did for fashion in The Devil Wears Prada. Not content to let these wonderful characters unspool in their own reality, Mitnick grabs the wheel of their fortunes and pulls them all into a ditch with his decision to have Babs' fears of extinction sprout wings. Literally. What follows is silly, convoluted, yet still watchable. Even when you're disappointed by where the plot leads, WET's fine ensemble work, nimble directing, and stagecraft are worth the ticket price all by themselves. Director Elise Hunt works with precision to wring the most from what's here. Mukhalian waxes suicidal, while Abramson giddily whores his trinkets. Norris takes "flights of fancy" to a whole new level, and Franklin delivers a speech that will have wannabe TV stars quaking in their Uggs before ever stepping into an audition again. Babs the Dodo is far from my favorite WET show, but for me, they're like Coen brothers movies. You won't like every story, but each one says something fascinating about the artists' creativity. I'd rather watch WET fail interestingly than sit through another earnest little snooze-fest. It's the difference between a high-wire act and geriatric yoga on a mat.

 
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