The Renaissance-era actors whose stock in trade turned into the commedia dell’arte tradition could not have come up with the hilarious and heartfelt love letter to high-school romance just delivered by Faction of Fools. This endearing niche theater company has excelled in masked theater since long before audiences too now wear masks. Beginning in January of 2022, a Faction of Fools “devising ensemble” teamed with talented playwright Doug Robinson, pooled their recollections of young love, and collaboratively created the comic confection that is Love Like Tuesday.
The two-act play directed briskly and delightfully by Francesca Chilcote runs through March 11 in the intimate Capital Hill Arts Workshop black box. The set designed by Johnny Weissgerber is a confetti-colored wishful vision of senior high. There’s an old-school principal’s squawk box overhead and side walls full of student lockers that will surprise us as doorways, set pieces, and assorted cubby holes. The opening number is a charmer: one after another, actors hold up pieces of paper and exclaim, “It’s a love letter! I’m in love!” This ebullient ensemble’s refrain sets the show’s tone, captures our heart’s attention, and introduces us to a cast, not yet masked, who for the next couple hours will have us laughing out loud with feels inside.
The kids’ public display of infatuation is simply captivating. Here’s Jordan Essex and Jasmine Proctor, for instance, playing smitten teens Max and Maya:
MAYA: I love you like whales love krill
MAX: I love you like roots love soil.
MAYA: I love you like writers love words.
MAX: I love you like birds love sky.
Of course, this being high school, a prom is upcoming, and multiple intersecting stories of crushes, affection, and rejection get enacted by actors quickly changing into various commedia masks (strikingly designed by Tara Cariaso). Mostly the stories are about love-struck teens (“hormonal youths,” the principal calls them), tapping into everyone’s adolescent anxiety with tropes of longing and loneliness. And Lynly A. Saunders’ colorful and quirky costumes go the distance to differentiate and delineate who’s who.
But one more-mature narrative becomes the show’s focus: the story of Doreen Dawkins, Pangolin High’s lunch lady. Her heart is all aflutter because a new substitute teacher, Cameron Noodle, is someone she carried a torch for when they were classmates at this very school. When she swoons as she remembers, we see her passion swell in a pool of color that is just one of many stunning lighting effects designed by William K. D’Eugenio. For their part, Mary Myers as Doreen and Danny Cackley as Cameron take us on an adorable rom-com throughline and on a carnival ride of dating.
It works really well that we first meet the cast maskless; then when in half masks their expressivity can no longer be facial, we readily accept their acting style of sight gags, daffy physicality, and exaggerated vocal inflections — all played to the hilt (Kathryn Zoerb coached the movement). These broad cartoonlike, commedia-inspired techniques would be considered mugging and scenery chewing in a show any less effervescent, but here the effect is joyfully playful and endlessly entertaining.
Between scenes, there’s beautiful keyboard music composed by Matthew M. Nielson, who also designed the sound. As timeouts in the ongoing clown show, these sweetly sentimental breathers felt emotionally just right.
At times the action shifts from the teen scene to a geriatric care facility where Doreen visits her mother, Annette. In a somber tone on a date with Cameron, Doreen tells him things about her mother she never told anyone:
DOREEN: She has these seizures. Doctors call them simple but when I’m watching her eyes flutter like that and her muscles spasm, they don’t look simple. They scared me. They still scare me. There was one night after she hadn’t had any seizures for a month, we were playing Kings in the Corner and it was her move and she just gripped all the cards in her hand real tight and she couldn’t get her words out. I went to my bedroom and pulled out my old baby blanket, the one she used to wrap me in, and wrapped it around her shoulders and just held her the whole night through…
It is a measure of the rich texture in this play that the character of Annette so tenderly described appears also comedically in the care facility as a spunky woman who though sometimes out of it is into erotic fiction. Kathryn Zoerb as Annette manages to be expertly funny without ageist meanness — including in a showstopping bit about flatulence. Also in the facility, Jordan Essex and Jasmine Proctor, whose earlier turn together as teens was a high point, appear as a doting couple in their twilight years. And Andrew Quilpa as an orderly/caretaker cleverly signals to us that he too has a crush on Doreen. The way the play suggests young love can last a lifetime is quite wonderful.
At the top of Act II Quilpa belts out a song and later tears up the stage in a brief dance solo. In the uniformly high-energy ensemble, Bri Houtman’s high spirits as the wired teen Jill stand out. And Matthew Pauli impresses in his several roles, including gruff Principal Foggybottom and a strange seafarer school custodian.
It’s when the play explains its title that the show, notwithstanding all its lighthearted silliness, really owns its depth. To love like Tuesday, we learn, is to love with all the consistency and constancy of Tuesday, which always and reliably follows Monday.
Catch this show if you can. Its levity is contagious. Its love lesson is lovely.
Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including one intermission.
Love Like Tuesday plays through March 11, 2023, presented by Faction of Fools Theatre Company performing in the black box theater inside the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop at 545 7th Street SE, Washington, DC. Tickets are on a sliding scale ($25, market rate; $35, “pay it forward”; $15, lower income/child) and can be purchased at the door and online.
The program for Love Like Tuesday is online here.
Family-friendly, but contains some PG-13 humor.
COVID Safety: Audience members are required to wear a mask during the performance.
Love Like Tuesday
A new play written by Doug Robinson
in collaboration with the Devising Ensemble of Faction of Fools
Director: Francesca Chilcote
Movement Coach: Kathryn Zoerb
Costume Designer: Lynly A. Saunders
Lighting Designer: William K. D’Eugenio
Sound Designer/Composer: Matthew M. Nielson
Set Designer: Johnny Weissgerber
Stage Manager: Sarah Kamins
Props Designer: Nick Martin
Production Manager: Samantha Owen
Mask Designer: Tara Cariaso of Waxing Moon Masks
Intimacy Consultant: Chelsea Pace
Master Electrician: Pat Kleespies
Associate Master Electrician: Alexis Sheeks
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Cameron Noodle: Danny Cackley
Perry/Barry/Max; Jordan Essex
Jill: Bri Houtman
Doreen Dawkins: Mary Myers
Foggybottom/Silver/Editor: Matthew Pauli
Nancy/Juniper/Maya: Jasmine Proctor
Teddy/Orson: Andrew Quilpa
Jerri Fredricks/Annette: Kathryn Zoerb
Rebecca Ballinger, Deimoni Brewington, Francesca Chilcote, Ben Lauer
Florence Babatunde, Deimoni Brewington, Danny Cackley, Tara Cariaso, Francesca Chiteote, Colin Connor, Natalie Cutcher, William K. D’Eugento, Darius Johnson, Ben Lauer, Rachel Spicknall Mulford, Mary Myers, Matthew M. Nielson, Matthew Pauli, Andrew Quilpa, Chris Ruthenberg-Marshall, Lynly A. Saunders, and Kathryn Zoerb