"I was born in Southeast, Washington, DC and raised in PG county and have seen the gradual changes the city has undergone. So, I watched DISTRICTLAND first as that lone Black native from the DMV and second as a GW grad who suffered through the happy hours and networking meetings that many of the characters in the story did. "
During my first year in grad school at GW I remember walking to a friend's birthday party at a rowhouse on Potomac Ave. This was the first time I'd been in that area in a while and immediately I noticed something wasn't right. There were young white professionals outside on the streets milling about, walking their dogs, heading to bars. I remember thinking. "Wait, isn't this supposed to be the "bad" part of town? The part that non-natives generally avoid after hours?" This was one of the many moments where I realized that the Washington, DC I knew as a kid was changing and no one had sent me, or the rest of the predominately black community that grew up in or around the area, the memo.
I always say gentrification is a very good thing or a very bad thing - depending on who you ask. Since returning to DC after undergrad, much of the last 5 years or so have been spent both reaping the benefits of gentrification, and witnessing the damage it does to communities, thinking about it, writing my Master's thesis on it and trying to understand the many sides and angles of the issue. So when the script for DISTRICTLAND came across my desk, I was immediately intrigued.
I started OpenStage almost a year ago as a way for playwrights in DC to workshop new scripts. Cristina Bejan's was one of the first scripts I received and the DISTRICTLAND team has gone on to present several scenes at OpenStage's monthly showcases. I'd been saying for a while - someone needs to write a movie or TV or play about what is happening in the District. Not the political landscape itself, but this influx of transplants moving into DC trying desperately to assimilate to the DC culture while also shaping it. And that is what DISTRICTLAND does - it gives you a window into the lives of a group of 20 somethings trying to find their place in a city that is becoming more about where you work and what you do, than who you are.
I was born in Southeast, Washington, DC and raised in PG county and have seen the gradual changes the city has undergone. So, I watched DISTRICTLAND first as that lone Black native from the DMV and second as a GW grad who suffered through the happy hours and networking meetings that many of the characters in the story did. I applaud Bejan's way of introducing the audience to this culture of assimilation in DC but not in a preachy way, and not in a way that seemed to have all the answers to all the problems facing the District (ie. gentrification, racial and cultural tensions).The characters addressed these issues the only way each of them knew how - from their respective lens, based on their own life experiences. Some imperfect..some misguided...but always honest. And that? Is refreshing to see on stage.
The action centers around 4 roommates (Frank, Charity, Maria and Dave) who were probably once very social and valued deep connection, but are now too busy to talk to each other when they come home to their shared row-house in the transitioning neighborhood where they reside. The wonderfully diverse cast delivers and the direction (John Dellaporta) is top notch. Andrew Quilpa's Frank, the long suffering Hill intern whose boss can't remember his name, is the sort of leading man you would expect to see in a quirky yet thoughtful new Comedy Central sitcom about millennials (..cough cough...Comedy Central, get on that...) You root for him, laugh both with and at him, and hope that if anyone comes out of this alive, it is Frank. One morning he sees the effortlessly beautiful A'isha (Robin Freeman) on the metro and is instantly taken by this rare creature - an actual DC native, taking the green line and all. We later see in a fantastic juxtaposed scene, A'isha performing during a poetry night, a poem about the lack of color at a music festival two blocks from the African-American Civil War Memorial which dons here grandfather's name; while Frank shuffles through yet another happy hour with overly ambitious DC young professionals, one of which is played by the hilarious Andra Belknap who asks everyone in sight "So...what do you do?". This scene illustrates these two worlds that Frank and A'isha live in. While they both can easily cross paths in a metro station, the reality is DC is divided by young transplants who work inside the beltway and locals who are being pushed out to the outer ends of the green line - both groups trying to find their place in light of DC's changing complexion.
DISTRICTLAND doesn't try to fix the world's problems in 90 mins. Instead, in its satirical nature, it focuses on the interactions between these characters, Dave and Maria whose first conversation in weeks turns into a vicious fight, Maria and her boyfriend who is in love with another woman, and finally, in a funny and touching scene at the end of the play, Frank and Charity who share an unexpected connection. So we're left with questions: Will Frank find love with A'isha and win the respect of his boss? Will Dave and Maria make amends? Will these four roommates each find what their are looking for in their respective quests for happiness and meaning in their lives? The answer, if we're being perfectly honest: probably not. Districtland doesn't tie everything up in a neat bow. And I'm fine with that.