You can’t swing a dead cat in Washington without hitting a politician or a lobbyist, as the ensemble-based company dog & pony dc (for District of Columbia) would know. The same is apparently true for New York and eager wannabe actors, as the run of dpdc’s acclaimed devised work, Beertown, at 59E59, is proving.
An only half-scripted performance parading as a quaint quinquennial town hall meeting, this spoof of participatory democracy relies on “audience integration” to debate the historic and emotional merits of artifacts under consideration for Beertown’s time capsule. A generous dessert potluck and “20th Quinquennial!” T-shirts aside, theatergoers needed no coaxing to jump into the fray with actual Beertonians (aka the nine-member cast) one recent night, inventing homegrown biographies on the spot to challenge arguments put forth by the local citizenry for why, among other crucial topics, Fred Soch’s 1956 Congressional Campaign button should go into the time capsule and a Proposition 6 lawn sign should not.
As interpreters of American history and identity, director Rachel Grossman and this enthusiastic-to-a-fault company are the real stars (and a social studies teacher’s dream), creating a finely grained, tongue-in-cheek virtual town with a hymn, a creation myth, elected officials, associations, even a website, and putting the whole project to a democratic vote. What defines a community? Beertown makes a motion we consider the question, but our ballot is already cast for dpdc’s quirky civics lesson.