Are you tickled by erudite digs at pop culture? Are you snooty about superficial celebrity gossip and those obsessed with it — yet you sometimes consume it on the sly? Have your electronic devices got your algorithm about what clutter makes you click? Do you sense we’re living in a post-truth, post-integrity world? Do you worry mass media are making it worse and there’s no turning back? If so, Landless Theatre Company has picked the perfect play to make you grin and bear it.
The play is Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, about two married gossip columnists (Andrew Lloyd Baughman as Mr. Fitch, Laura J. Martin as Mrs. Fitch) who run out of juicy tidbits to publish so they concoct a hoax celebrity instead. They start out with teasing blind items about an enigmatic personage they name Jamie Glenn, but the scheme gets ridiculously out of hand as other media pick up the story as if it’s true and embellish it. Media mayhem and marital stress ensue. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane (who is currently turning his cult classic To Wong Foo… into a musical) took inspiration from a similar prank Cole Porter pulled based on characters in his song “Mr. and Missus Fitch” — which, if you stay tuned, you can hear Baughman croon.
The story takes place in 2010 in the couple’s swanky New York City apartment. Audiences in the tiny Caos on F black box will have to imagine the posh part. The sparse set by Aubri O’Connor and Illeana Madison is a pink sofa, white cabinet, and faux brick backdrop repurposed from another comedy in rep in the space. When Baughman as Mr. Fitch sings the titular Cole Porter song, he accompanies himself on a keyboard meant to stand in for a grand piano. And the economical costuming by Jeanne Edwards-Douglas barely hints at a lavish lifestyle. Production values are not what makes this show worth a visit. Instead, the play is the thing.
The script is so quippy one is challenged to keep up. In fact, there’s such a torrent of winking cultural references in it that Vulture made a list. For fans of quick and clever banter, there’s delicious fun to be had in Beane’s ample serving of bon mots. As the Fitches return late at night tipsy from a party peopled by boldfaced names, for instance, she complains about what a “goddam sincere event” it was. Her husband retorts, equally archly, “I shall do my best to shield you from all sincerity.” To which she replies: “I mean when did everything become so…meaningful?”
The two are wicked in their takedown of what they call the Semi-annual Ass Kissers’ Ball. In their world “reality is the new fiction” and “gossip is news that’s interesting.” Their neurotic snobbery often sounds like poking fun at an entire demographic lost in a morass of missing mores.
As their Jamie Glenn hoax heats up (based solely on rumor, he makes it onto the “10 Sexy New Yorkers to Watch Out For” list), they fuel the fame flame by devising a scandal with someone they non-gender “No-sex X.” Aghast at how swiftly Mr. Fitch sees social media influencing mainstream media, he opines: “No news source takes information from a chatroom!” — a line that got a knowing laugh.
Alongside the story of the Fitches’ hoax-mongering, we get storytelling about their marital life, and we come to understand what one fiction has to do with the other. “He [Jamie Glenn] must live so we may live,” observes Mrs. Fitch, who makes ardently clear she would like more lovemaking. Mr. Fitch is evidently reticent. He’s got a thing for men. Though the couple’s marital tension is amusingly scripted as such, Baughman and Martin bring verve to the onstage relationship when they dance together à la Zelda and F. Scott and do the Charleston while punning on the word charlatan.
Where this production comes up short is not that its staging is low budget but that the zingers would have more zing if the direction (Maurice McKnight and Winnifred LaMae) and performances were sharper. The blocking often comes off as awkward instead of suave. Wednesday night Baughman especially had an unsteady grasp of his lines, which made the tempo falter. And neither he nor Martin seemed adept at the sort of crisp urbane delivery that would better serve this wittily brittle script.
Yet if you listen, Mr. and Mrs. Fitch is quite rich. Its sendup of celebrity culture and this post-truth world is well-timed.
Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.
Mr. and Mrs. Fitch plays May 22, 29, and 30, 2023, at 8 pm and May 28 at 5 pm presented by Landless Theatre Company performing at Caos on F, 923 F Street NW, Washington, DC. Tickets, which may be purchased online, are $30. Seating is limited to 30 audience members per performance.
The playbill for Mr. and Mrs. Fitch is online here.
Mr. and Mrs. Fitch plays in rep with Open through May 27, 2023; Finding Neil Patrick Harris through June 9; and The Oreo Complex, May 20 to June 2, presented by Nu Sass Productions. These tickets, which may be purchased online, are $30, general admission; $60, Date Night (2 tickets + 2 drinks + 2 snacks); $10, industry/students/essential workers/military; and Pay What You Will, all performances, anyone.
COVID Safety: Masks are encouraged but not required. Select mask-required performances will be scheduled.
Mr. and Mrs. Fitch
by Douglas Carter Beane
Mr. Fitch – Andrew Lloyd Baughman
Mrs. Fitch – Laura J. Martin
Directors – Maurice McKnight and Winnifred LaMae
Stage Manager – Hannah Thompson
Set Designer – Aubri O’Connor and Illeana Madison
Costume Designer – Jeanne Edwards-Douglas
Sound Designer – Andrew Lloyd Baughman
Lighting Designer – Coco McFarlin