2023 Capital Fringe Review: ‘I could have set the world on fire’ by Shaun Michael Johnson (2 stars)

A film actor reflects on his showbiz career and what could have been.

Can the accents of characters drive a story? I could have set the world on fire, making its debut at Capital Fringe, asks us to consider.

This play is for you if you love hearing a variety of accents and they make you laugh. Unfortunately, the play fails to inspire much beyond admiration for the accents of the performers.

The play centers around Ernest Williams, an American with a posh accent sharing his old stories of working in film from his hospital bed with his Southern belle ex-wife and their daughter. As Ernest recounts his life stories, he embellishes and tries to gloss over the anti-Black roles he felt obligated to accept if he wanted to have a career in showbiz. The play also taps into how anti-Black racism can wreck the body and how the healthcare system experiments on Black bodies.

However funny the play attempts to be, the jokes don’t find a solid place to land. The accents do a lot of heavy lifting for the play by distracting from the plot’s flimsiness. Lying underneath are strong themes that don’t quite get the support they need. The dialogue doesn’t easily flow between the characters, and the lack of chemistry is evident among them making me wonder if the director and playwright understood each other’s goals. With competing levels of connection to their characters, the play is stuck in rehearsal.

The play could have set the festival on fire but instead does little more than make a case for the playfulness of accents.

Running Time: 60 minutes.

I could have set the world on fire plays July 15 at 5:00 pm, July 16 at 6:45 pm, July 19 at 8:00 pm, July 22 at 3:00 pm, and July 23 at 9:00 pm at DCJCC – Cafritz Hall. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online.

Genre: Comedy
Director: Mediombo Singo Fofana
Playwright: Shaun Michael Johnson
Composer: Shaun Michael Johnson
Age appropriateness: Recommended for Children 13 + older
Profanity: yes

The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.


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