If journalism is the first draft of history, plays are the testimonials — and often the final word.
First-time playwright Elizabeth Cutler, who admittedly has always been a news junkie and a fan of journalism drama, presents a diorama of disaster in Between Raindrops, chronicling the 1922 deadly collapse of the Knickerbocker Theatre during a record-breaking DC snowstorm. Like many Washingtonians, she had never heard of what was called the city’s worst catastrophe that left 98 people dead and 133 injured, despite it occurring close by, at 18th and Columbia in what’s now known as the Adams Morgan neighborhood. About four years ago, after learning of it — and an ongoing turf war over commemorating it — she deployed her theater gifts to enlighten as well as entertain.
One danger of writing a historical play is falling victim to the cold narration of a Wikipedia citation. It’s a credit to the four gifted actors enlisted, each of whom inhabits two roles, that the play mostly skirts this trap. Smart, subtle costume changes help keep IDs straight. Drew Larsen, as both Theo the newsboy, who dreams of a life reviewing theater (help me here, kid), and Sam, the besotted suitor of socialite Lia, is a standout in fleshing out characters that could have been mere avatars. Abigail Fu dazzles as starstruck Daisy (Edith, the reserved sister of Lia, is her coin flip); Jason Re imbues real-life Washington Post drama critic and survivor John Jay Daly with genteel bravado and then transforms into a humble musician who was called to fill in that night during the screening of a silent film when other musicians couldn’t navigate the weather; and Isabelle Solomon transfixes as Lia and Helen — the latter a Scout leader who guided rescuers to survivors in the rubble by singing “like glass chimes.” Solomon’s voice and presence are luminous. (Another Knickerbocker victim rescued several people before realizing his body was riddled with glass shards, which inevitably killed him.)
Projections (technical direction by Andy Weld) display fascinating historical photos — as one real-life character put it, “a temple of mirth had transformed into a tomb.” The pictures serve as stand-ins for drama left untapped, however, and the sometimes forced comic relief, aiming to balance more maudlin moments, spills overboard. But for fans of historical drama, this show is bound to hook you. Cutler’s resource list of research alone is worth the price of the ticket.
Running Time: 30 minutes plus 15-minute talkback.
Playwright and Director: Elizabeth Cutler
Performers: Drew Larsen, Abigail Fu, Jason Re, Isabelle Solomon
Technical Director: Andy Weld
Costume Design: Ensemble
Age Appropriateness: Appropriate for all ages
The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.