2022 Capital Fringe Review: ‘The Approach’ by Mark O’Rowe

In this haunting three-hander, the pièce de résistance is the performances.

“Nice to have a bit of a moan on occasion,” says one of the three women who, in sequential pairs, meet at a Dublin café and chat about this and that in Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe’s haunting The Approach. But their elliptical chit-chat is deceptively deep. They speak of quotidian topics like weight loss and kitchen remodeling; they reference life events like childbirth and divorce; they extemporize extensively about the men in their lives, some true loves, some betrayers, and an abuser. But nothing is quite what it seems in this stunningly well-executed production. Listen closely to the musicality in the seeming superficiality of these conversations and you will glean subtextual dramas that over the years connect and disconnect these three women in surprising ways and that will leave you in awe at what great acting can do with a smart and scintillating script.

Michael Chamberlin directs this inaugural production by The Watershed, a new DC theater company “emerging after two years of pandemic separation, urgently seeking to engage in live performances and revitalize our shared spaces.” They’re off to a terrific start. They picked a play, a cast, and a design team of a caliber that one would pay far more than a $15 Fringe ticket to take in at a regional theater.

Set Designer April Joy Bastian establishes a surreal simplicity with chairs askew in near darkness and a table set with cups lit only by three lanterns. Later Lighting Designer Venus Gulbranson illuminates the space with footlights that convert the conversations into shadow plays upon the upstage white wall. In between scenes, Sound Designer and Composer Reid May provides gorgeously evocative tracks of plinking strings, heartbeats, droning, and piano.

But the pièce de résistance is the performances: Tessa Klein as Cora, Nancy Bannon as Anna, Madeleine Burke Pitt as Denise. They each seem to have an uncanny inner knowledge of backstories and unseen people that inform every scintilla of their speech, every flicker in their face, every gesture, every breath. The text they are working with may seem cryptic on the page, but these three profoundly gifted actors have found every nuance.

Highly recommended.


Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes, no intermission.

The Approach plays three more times — July 21, 2022, at 6:00 pm; July 23 at 4:00 pm; July 24 at 7:45 pm — at REPRESENTATION – Formerly Washington Sports Club, 3270 M Street NW, Washington, DC. To see the performance schedule and purchase tickets ($15), go online.

COVID Safety: The audience is to remain masked for the show. The mask needs to cover your mouth and nose the whole time. Proof of vaccination and ID are checked before entry.

Genre: Drama
Age appropriateness: Appropriate for Adults Only

The Approach
By Mark O’Rowe
Directed by Michael Chamberlin

Cora: Tessa Klein
Anna: Nancy Bannon
Denise: Madeleine Burke Pitt

Set Designer: April Joy Bastian
Costume Designer: Kristina Martin
Lighting Designer: Venus Gulbranson
Sound Designer & Composer: Reid May
Stage Manager: Hannah Roche
ASM & Covid Safety Manager: Trenor Gould
Dialect Coach: David Markey

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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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