“Come and get your Jesus swag!,” chirps a New Colony ensemble member as you enter the Victory Garden’s Studio Theatre for their new comedy, 11:11. Bracelets asking, “Got God?,” Jesus stickers, plastic crucifix necklaces, temporary tattoos – it’s all there, and offered to you with buoyant charm and addictive enthusiasm. You can’t help but smile and shake your head.
This is pretty much the experience during the play itself — a quirky piece that works overtime to entertain, and takes a while to get anywhere meaningful. However, when it does reach that point, it comes a touch too late.
I really like this group – they seem to genuinely enjoy being together onstage, and the air at a New Colony show is just warm and happy and filled with creative support. Chris Jones noted something similar to this in his review of the show, and I fully agree.
But the play itself, to be honest, seems underdeveloped. Oh, it’s generally funny and the concept is quite intriguing: A group of bright-eyed Christian camp counselors get together the day before their charges are due to arrive for some bonding and team building, but things go awry when a group of them accidentally take the hallucinogenic drug Ecstasy, mistaking it for Aleve.
Unfortunately, the first act seems saturated with side-bar conversations and frantic spurts of character development, leaving you confused at intermission as to who these people are.
That aside, it takes a certain level of maturity and confidence to trust in your material and treat it with respect. And it seems, on the whole, they do that here. Not once did I feel writers Evan Linder and Tara Sissom mocked these people or their beliefs. (However, I’m far from a religious person, so the sensitivity around the subject matter isn’t exactly apparent.) Yes, the personalities are heightened and typed, in a TV sitcom sort of way, and the situation is ridiculous, in a slightly plausible sort of way, but the core action is driven by real human emotions and desires, which the sobering second act thoughtfully addresses.
The cast is filled with gems, from writer Sissom’s exuberant Dana, who goes from bouncing off the walls with excitement to playing caretaker to her high peers, to Sarah Gitenstein as the sad, lost Anna. (Girtenstein, who made a strong impact in New Colony’s Calls to Blood, delivers the emotional heft, again, with heartbreaking honesty.) And, thankfully, director Meg Johns knows how to step aside and let these skilled comedian/actors shine, while, at the same time, not allowing the evening to become a two-hour SNL sketch.
However, I just wish the piece didn’t take so long to find its footing. But, as proven time and again, The New Colony will never bore you. This is a fun, exciting group – the kind that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but isn’t all sass and irony. Entirely refreshing. I’ll make a point to see whatever they produce – and you should, too.
“11:11” plays through March 13 at the Victory Gardens Biograph Studio Theatre. More information >