As the “robots” in Storm Trooper masks started dancing in unison, under flashing strobe lights and thumping techno, I turned to look at the elderly man sitting next to me at the opening night performance of RoboPop! And he was smiling. A slight smile, to be sure, maybe a smirk. But it was a sign of contentment if I’ve ever seen one. And that’s how it is with Washington Ensemble Theatre’s latest show, an 80-minute music video onstage that threatens to be too esoteric (there’s no dialogue), but manages to appeal to everyone with its sweet—not saccharine—storyline and outstanding tech elements.
It’s best not to get hung up on the details of the plot. In fact, WET’s playbill is the equivalent of a CD cover, with song tracks listed instead of acts. Just know that in some indeterminate time in the future, man and robot coexist, and they don’t quite get along. Libby Matthews plays “the chosen one,” a girl who will lead humanity in its battle against machinery…except that she pulls a Juliet and falls for Romeo 2.0. And though the cast should be applauded for its dance moves and mimicry (and for lasting that long inside stuffy Storm Trooper helmets), the real stars of this show are the tech crew.
Ensemble member Andrea Bryn Bush’s set— a seeming nod to Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream” video —gives depth to the small black-box space. Lighting by Amiya Brown adds emotional layers to fight scenes and romantic interludes alike, while the sound-and-video team of Brendan Hogan and Wes Hurley keeps the play moving like a well-timed Lady Gaga concert. The whole show—the brainchild of directors/veteran ensemble designers Heidi Ganser and Ben Zamora—is fresh, creative, and professional. In other words, exactly what I’ve come to expect from WET.
RoboPop! runs Thursdays through Mondays until May 10 at Washington Ensemble Theatre. For tickets, click here.