Two very different productions are representing Montgomery County in this year’s Capital Fringe Festival, which begins on July 9.
First, “Passing,” a play by John Sowalsky, is about two sisters, Gretchen and Emma, who recently lost their mother who was a Holocaust survivor. The sisters have a mixed relationship with each other, with loving and antagonist thoughts with each other.
Following their mother’s death, they have been unable to find a will. Gretchen, the elder of the two, wants to sell the house that her sister and their mother had lived. However, Emma wanted to remain in the house.
Amid their family dispute for control of the house, Emma discovers and opens a letter addressed to Gretchen in their mother’s handwriting.
The letter was written in 1945 at the end of the war, during which a dark family secret is revealed. The play moves forward to the present day when choices made by Ruth in 1945 and by Emma in 1988 lead to grave consequences.
Sowalsky’s production company – the Indian Ocean Theatre Company (IOTC) – began in 2008 and since then, has brought five productions to the annual Capital Fringe Festival. His company has also participated in other festivals and staged readings.
For Sowalsky, it is about believing that producing his own work is the best way to get it onstage. One example is “Passing,” which is a different play than what he normally works on.”
“Usually I write comedies,” he said. “This is as far from comedy as it gets.”
The idea for the play, now 40 minutes long, came to the playwright in 2010. Sowalsky said he could not execute it at the time, though he would revisit the idea often.
“Then one night, it was like Eureka, and I wrote ‘Passing’ within a few days,” said Sowalsky. “I am grateful to the Fringe since it gives you the opportunity to write something that won’t fit (in) anywhere else. It’s a good learning experience for people who haven’t produced their own work before.”
However, you have to be flexible with your performances during the Fringe Festival, Sowalsky added. Companies get only one tech rehearsal in the venue and only 15 minutes to mount the production. Most Capital Fringe productions are minimalistic, with costume changes done in full view of the audience.
“So, you don’t want an elaborate set with special effects,” he said.
Harley Venton is directing “Passing” while Cristen Stephansky plays Emma and Ruth, the mother. Margaret Anne Murphy performs Gretchen and Hannah.
The venue for “Passing” is Riverside Baptist Church, 699 Maine Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. Performances take place on July 11, 6:30 p.m.; July 13, 5:45 p.m.; July 16, 8:30 p.m.; July 20, 2:30 p.m. and July 24, 8:30 p.m.
In contrast, Twanna A. Hines is presenting a personal solo piece, based on own life and her work as a sex and relationship educator through her company, Funky Brown Chick Inc. The performance is called “We’re All Going to F—— Die.”
“A lot of people need joy and pleasure right now,” Hines said. “So many Americans are stressed out, financially, politically. I wanted to do a show to let the anxiety go.”
“I’m not an actor,” Hines continued. “I asked the festival if it’s possible to do something like this, and they said that’s why the Fringe exists; it’s very diverse.”
The show represents quite a journey for a woman who grew up as an Evangelical in rural Illinois. Hines said her show is suitable to audience members 18 and over and is 75 minutes long.
The venue of Hines’s piece is Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, D.C. Her performances are to take place July 9, 5:30 p.m.; July 14, 12:30 p.m.; July 18, 7:45 p.m.; July 25, 8 p.m. and July 28, 3 p.m.
An additional production by a county resident is “Dream/Seeker” also is included in the festival.
Tickets can be purchased through the Capital Fringe website: https://www.capitalfringe.org.