Washington Ensemble Theatre has produced yet another beautiful, well-acted, well-put-together piece whose script I don’t totally get.
Babs is a home shopping channel personality: she’s bubbly on the outside, devastated on the inside. She is easily wounded and despite a certain amount of fame (she has the prime time shopping spot on the network), nothing seems to go right when she’s not in front of the camera. She’s about to turn 50; Handsome Chris is a rising star on the network who threatens to take her spot; her boss is a verbal sadist; and her 29 year old boyfriend turns out to be gay, and looking to marry her so he can have a “beard.” In a fit of despair, Babs turns to a combination of wine, drain cleaner, and a vegetable peeler to solve her problems. However, instead of brutally peeling herself to death, Babs discovers that she has, literally, grown wings. Eventually she learns that she is a dodo, and headed toward extinction. But she has told her story in front of her loyal home shopping network audience, who love her so much that millions buy her — not her products, but her right off the set where she has passed out. An itinerary is set, and although Babs might be the last Dodo (she has laid an egg that, at the end of the play, has not yet hatched), she is setting out on a wonderful adventure to meet all the people that care about her.
It was a fun, light fantasy story. The first 2/3 of the show seemed to be going into a depressing realm, possibly ending in suicide, but instead Babs turns into a dodo bird. The only indications that this might happen are the title of the show, and Raymond the Ornithologist’s mention early in the play that he wanted to be the last person to find a dodo when he was a child. There’s talk elsewhere in the show about birds — Babs says specifically that she wanted to be an eagle as a child, and Raymond nicknames her Cuckoo after the bird.
This play was on a recognizable track and then veered off, and although I still feel like I don’t totally get where it was going, I’m glad it veered. If “Babs the Dodo” had been written in the late 90’s or early 00’s, she would never have turned into a dodo — instead, someone (probably Raymond or Babs’ boss Jocelyn Nob) would have compared her to the extinct bird, expounded in a darkly philosophical monologue about how she’s the last of her kind and she’s too dumb to get out of the way of a club, or something. And then compared this to the rest of us out there in Society. And the show either would have ended there, or Babs would have killed herself. Her phone call to her ex-husband would have been the end of the play, instead of the turning point. It would have been a middle class masturbation session over ennui, like Eric Bogosian’s “subUrbia,” or any play in the last 30 years having to do with middle aged couples trying to find some kind of fulfillment.
But it didn’t turn into that, and although I am still scratching my head about the relevance of the ending to the rest of the show, at least it didn’t end like that. That would have been both depressing and condescending, having the play spelled out in the most depressing woe-is-me-I’m-stuck-in-my-nice-house-and-car terms. The play had a happy ending instead, although it was odd. Babs was embarking on a journey to meet the people who loved her enough to spend money on her, which is not something she asked for in the play, but fits with the whole “home shopping network” theme.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. The set design was fantastic and intriguing, as WET’s sets always are. And I have to say that Hannah Victoria Franklin is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses in town (that I haven’t worked with). The show may leave you feeling a little odd or off-kilter, but go see it.