The late novelist Ayn Rand wrote and produced a play, back in the 1930s, entitled “The Night of January 16th”, which featured a fictional murder trial. Members of the audience of that play served as jurors in the fictional trial. The jury had to rely on character testimony to determine the guilt or innocence of secretary Karen Andre, who was on trial for the murder of businessman Bjorn Faulkner.
The Highwood Theatre is currently producing the new stage play “RIOT”, which takes a page from Rand’s playbook and invites audience interaction. At times during the play, director Sue Schaffel freezes the action and has various actors ask the audience who was right, who was wrong, and who caused what, in various situations. Audience members are encouraged to Tweet onto the play’s Twitter feed, which shows up on a large-screened monitor, during the show.
‘RIOT’, part of Highwood’s Open Source Theatre Project, follows six characters, caught in the Whitney University coffee shop in the middle of a campus protest. The protest, inspired by rabble-rousing student and “the Governor’s daughter” Nicole Frederick (the excellent Nerissa Hart) turns into a riot, leaving six very different characters, including a stressed-out cop, trapped in the coffee shop.
The strongest performances include studentscoffee shop patrons Andrea Robichaux (Mollie Goff) and Ryan Park (Smitty Chai). Urban-Youth-Bad-Boy Ryan’s seething anger at the injustice of growing up disadvantaged in America leads to a dangerous confrontation with the aforementioned cop, Officer Frank Bell (Christopher Holbert).
The show was a bit hindered by a slow start, probably due to the blending of reality and unreality early on (i.e. audience members could buy real coffee and cookies from the fictional coffee shop, were encouraged to Tweet during the performance and were asked broken-fourth-wall questions by the cast). But once it got going, the show shocked the audience with a seat-edged intensity and plunged deeply into the issues of the day and the strong conflicts and drama they entail: Black Lives Matter, the Occupy Movement, even Nicole’s ridiculous “crusade” to change the nick name of the school football team from the Crusaders to the Patriots.
Andrew Quilpa, who played coffee shop owner and university alumn Chris Peralta, is an actor to watch. Quilpa had Chris go from jovial friend-to-everybody everyman, to wounded, angry victim; seems that Nicole may or may not have gotten a student and friend of Chris’, Claudia, stabbed and killed via one of her protests. Was Nicole responsible for Claudia’s death? You decide. Nosey, arrogant journalist Stacy Jorgensen was brought to life effectively by Jennifer Berry.
Crafted by Schaffel, Claudia Rosales, and Garrett Schaffel, and well directed by (Sue) Schaffel, ‘RIOT’ asks the audience to think and question what they see, not passively drink it in. I loved the intensity and conflicts, but at 90-minutes, I felt myself wanting more. As you take your seat at Highwood, prepare to have your beliefs challenged and be prepared to defend them vocally—and Tweet.
When you go:
Saturday, February 20 at 7:30 PM – SOLD OUT
Sunday, February 21 at 2:00 PM
Friday, February 26 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, February 27 at 7:30 PM
Sunday, February 28 at 2:00 PM
Buy tickets by clicking here
or call 301-587-0697
The Highwood Theatre
914 Silver Spring Avenue, Silver Spring, MD
Stacy Jorgensen: Jennifer Berry
Ryan Park: Smitty Chai
Andrea Robichaux: Mollie Goff
Nicole Frederick: Nerissa Hart
Officer Frank Bell: Christopher Holbert
Chris Peralta: Andrew Quilpa