By Nicole Macon
The Flying Muskrat Theatre Company explored what it means to be human with an emotional robot, a meeting between two strangers in the park, and the lies our parents tell us in to launch the company’s second season of performances this month at the James Lee Community Center.
The “Becoming Human” series began with “Sentiment,” written by Longwood University junior Marie Lupia and Flying Muskrat playwright contest winner. The group held the contest after discovering that D.C.’s Arena Stage would not hold its annual student playwright contest this year.
“We saw [the cancellation of the contest] as not only a disappointment, but an opportunity to showcase the work that would not otherwise be shown,” said Brennan Jones, artistic director and a founding member of The Flying Muskrat Theatre Company.
“Sentiment” focuses on a robot called F04 slated to be destroyed after failing a test that would allow her to legally become human. Her creator, Ambrose, explains to F04 why she failed the test and reveals that F04 was created with a similar personality as Ambrose, a human unable to have a child of her own. But Ambrose’s passion and sentimentality have no place in the world of “Sentiment,” the audience discovers as they meet Dee, the fifth version of F04’s model and the first to pass the test to become human.
Dee’s lack of emotion and unwillingness to question the rules of society represent the ideal qualities in this society according to “the Director,” the overseer of all the characters and the one who determines which robots pass the test. He emerges from the shadows and asserts that Dee represents the future of humanity in the Director’s utopian society – one where emotions and sentiment are no longer needed.
“The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year” revolves around an unlikely couple who meet by a park side bench in 1960s New York. “She” moved to the city less than a year ago and is enjoying a day in the park feeding pigeons when “He” emerges and tells “She” how bad it is to feed them. He then tells a string of unbelievable tales, growing more peculiar and absurd as the play progresses. Despite his oddball nature, “She” enjoys his company and they spend the next few Sundays together in the park. The play concludes with a tragic yet comical twist mirroring the absurd tales “He” told.
The final performance, “Lies My Parents Told Me,” was directed by Jones and Melanie Reuter and co-written by Wes Johnson, but also incorporated many of the actors’ suggestions and improvisation. This process “let our actors really write the script in rehearsal, improvise the scenes until they were solid, then actually write it down and rehearse details,” Jones said. “Once we had the process and concept down, ‘Lies’ was a no-brainer.”
The performance explored a variety of lies parents tell their children using a string of scenes with different sets of characters. Some skits explore a variety of lies with the same characters, such as a skit about a daughter dating a man her parents didn’t like, while others focused on one lie, such as Santa Claus and death, with hilarious twists.
The Flying Muskrat Theatre Company was established last year when a group of Falls Church High School students were unable to perform three original one-act plays at the school. Those plays eventually became part of the company’s inaugural performance.
While the group tries to keep the technical positions staffed with high school students, acting roles are filled by university students or older thespians. The difference in age and experience between the actors and technical staff gives everyone the opportunity to learn from each other, which is the main goal of the group according to Jones.
The group will perform “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” on Aug. 2, 3, 9, and 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the James Lee Community Center, with a matinee performance Aug. 10 at 2 p.m. For more information, visit flyingmuskrats.org.