Review: ‘Spills’ by Who What Where Theater Collective

A script studded with wit makes twenty-something chit-chat sound like hella high comedy.

We are seated on folding chairs in the living room of an actual house where two women and a man in their mid-twenties have agreed to meet up for a three-way. There’s a modest playing area for them and room for fewer than two dozen of us. And what we have come for is the world premiere of Spills by local playwright Ruthie Rado—which on the basis of this exuberantly outstanding production may be the funniest and freshest play about fair sex play ever written.

The site-specific, immersive performance goes on in a community art space in Takoma Park called RhizomeDC (where Deb Sivigny’s wonderful  Hello…My Name Is was done). The play could not be in a more agreeable venue. We sit so close to the action we are virtually voyeurs.

Kira Omans (Gal) and Jacob Thompson (Dude) in ‘Spills.’ Photo by Madison McVeigh.

The play is in three acts that flow into one another without a break. It begins with scenes of meet-and-greet during which it becomes clear that everyone knows why they’re there and have agreed in principle to the plan, but it’s not a foregone conclusion they’ll do the deed. The characters never refer to each other by name but have cute identifiers in the program. The two women are Chick and Gal, the man is Dude. Chick and Gal have not met before but Dude knows them both. The three-way was his idea, and he cleared it with his girlfriend Steph, who was totally okay with it (“We’re very open. Ethically non-monogamous”). This will be Chick’s and Gal’s first time with another woman and neither has previously been intimate with the polyamorous Dude. So they all could use a drink or two or several. Even before the hilariously orgasmic main event in Act Two, their nervous Act One preliminaries about “smashing nasties” generate such paroxysms of laughter it’s like dramaturgical edging.

Rado’s script is studded with wit. It makes twenty-something, slang-filled chit-chat sound like hella high comedy. Rebecca Wahls’s direction of its every detail is pitch-perfect. And the cast, singly and as an ensemble, are as fun a bunch as could be.

Dude, whose home this is and whose roommates are elsewhere, is an amiable professional Ultimate Frisbee player with a wounded knee. Rado conceived of Dude as having a talent for considerately pleasing the multiple women with whom he scores, and Jacob Thompson gets his sexy swagger and endearing good manners just right.

Rebecca Ballinger (Chick) and Kira Omans (Gal) in ‘Spills.’ Photo by Madison McVeigh.

Gal, the first to arrive, is a bundle of nerves and insecurities. She’s a graphic designer of baby food pouches and not taken seriously at work. She’s the one to initiate the conversation about boundaries, and she says she has an early plane to catch so she really doesn’t have time to get it on. Kira Omans deftly captures the character’s timidity and fragility then radiates an amazing revelation as the character blossoms.

Chick is an admin assistant at a nonprofit and a fitness and yoga fanatic. Rebecca Ballinger brings a delightful sense of aspirational erotic ambivalence to Chick—she wants to be more open than she is. At one point, Chick leads an exercise for “pelvic bowl opening.” She and Gal begin by lying down on their backs on the floor and moving their hips around in a circle, like they’re grinding and bumping the air.

Rebecca Ballinger (Chick), Kira Omans (Gal), and Jacob Thompson (Dude) in ‘Spills.’ Photo by Madison McVeigh.

Noticing that Dude is watching intently, Gal asks him, “Is this mad sexy right now?”

“In theory, it should be,” he says drily.

“Come join us,” urges Chick, “loosen your pelvis!”

“Will my anatomy allow it?” he asks.

“Probably,” says Chick. ” If you break your dick and go sterile, you can totally
litigate me.”

And such is a tidbit of the wit you get in Rado’s script.

Jacob Thompson (Dude), Kira Omans (Gal), and Rebecca Ballinger (Chick) in ‘Spills.’ Photo by Madison McVeigh.

After that, they all crack up and form a laughing pile that makes the will-they-or-won’t-they question a lot less in doubt. In Act Two we learn what they decide to do—promotion material refers to it as “theatrical depictions of consensual sex.” It is off-the-charts hilarious and way too good to give away.

Each of the three characters has a backstory, and the most developed is that of Gal, whose mother was Chinese and father, mostly Irish. Gal tells of taking a DNA test that identifies a brother she never knew she had. The unfolding of that narrative by Rado and Omans is deeply touching, and among the wonders of the script is how well such a moving character arc fits within the overall merriment.

In Act Three, the actors come out in character and interact with individual members of the audience who, before the show, have agreed to be part of it. This too is too good to give away except to say that the actors whose mad skills with a script have just been amply demonstrated now show themselves to be artists of the ad lib.

Production Designer Brittany Martz has made this house a home for this amazing play: clothing as cool and convincing as the actors’ performances, furnishings that might have come from a yard sale, and sex toy props that only a really wild imagination could come up with.

If we humans are homo ludens—having an innate capacity to laugh, play, and enjoy—it should come as no surprise that laughter is the best libido liberator. Certainly that’s the sensuality and sensibility that overflows from the splendid Spills.

Running time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.

Spills runs through March 30, 2019, presented by Who What Where Theater Collective performing at RhizomeDC – 6950 Maple Street, NW, in Washington, DC. attendance is limited. Purchase tickets online.




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John Stoltenberg
John Stoltenberg is executive editor of DC Theater Arts. He writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg. Member, American Theatre Critics Association.


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