Last night, The Story League of DC and The Story Collider co-presented a night of storytelling called “The Politics of Science” at the new(ish) Artisphere in the Rosslyn section of Arlington. Housed in the former home to the Newseum and Freedom Forum, the sprawling Artisphere features several performing spaces, a restaurant, and several galleries. The show sold-out the approximately 220-seat Dome Theatre, characterized by a big stage, oversized concave projection wall, and a seating gradient roughly akin to the side of a mountain.
As an overall program, the night was very strong. The highlights of the night were Adam Rubin’s story about the morality of animal testing in drug development, while Jason Pittman, of the previously-reviewed e-Geaux show at Fringe, took the politics and science theme literally to present a winding narrative of his classroom of 5-year-olds heading to the White House to meet the First Lady, only to be kicked off the premises for collective bad behavior before Mrs. Obama or the three visiting astronauts emerged from their meeting. (Surprisingly, Pittman was the only one, by the way, to take the mic off the stand to speak, ala stand-up). Newcomer Chuck Na was animated enough to entertain the crowd with a similar classroom adventure, his trials and tribulations teaching science at an Orthodox Jewish school.
While all the performers hit high notes of their own, not everything in the show worked. Susanna Speier’s story about the life and ultimate death of the space shuttle program was an intriguing panoramic idea, but was simply too unfocused to establish a discernible narrative from the beginning. Caitlin Brodnick’s story about having to choose between physics and drama at Syracuse was well-presented and worked as the first story, but faded in stature a bit as the the more weighty stories were told. Guy Shaffer’s story about monkey testing was well-executed, but had the unfortunate distinction of being the second animal testing story on the program, muting some of its impact. Doug Fields had probably the most riveting moment of the night to work with, in recounting how he held out a strip of raw meat for a hawk to descend from a ledge and land on his bare, unprotected arm. While the tension in the room was palpable at the telling of this moment, Doug’s excessively laid back style probably betrayed a bit of the urgency of such a remarkable connection to nature.
Ironically, while the performers had no doubt poured over the details and choices of their stories, the night was almost derailed by a moment no one could have reasonably expected. About two-thirds of the way through Adam Rubin’s story, a man sitting across the aisle from me had a seizure and went unconscious, causing his friend to call out for help and to stop to the show. Miraculously, seated right behind the man was a doctor who quickly took a pulse and, with help, moved the man to the floor where he regained consciousness pretty quickly. Host Ben Lillie called for an early intermission, another audience member called 911 and about 10-15 minutes later, first responders entered the theatre and wheeled the pale, but alert men out for further treatment, to applause. Thankfully, no one in the audience appeared to panic in any way. Overall, the interruption could not have been handled any better on all sides.
The real story of the night was both the Artisphere and the production itself presenting themselves so well.