In Capital Fringe Festival, Politics Takes the Stage

Fourth Annual Performance Series to Begin Tonight

Posted July 8, 2009 at 3:00pm

Local playwright Jason Ford says the problem with most workplace-based plays is that they turn into the predictable story of what he calls “Dilbert on stage.— Political plays can be even worse.

“Usually when theater does political plays, they do it from an extremely anti-establishment … point of view,— Ford said.

Ford, who works as an information technology specialist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics during the day, said that in his new play, “GS-14,— he wanted to portray a funny but positive look at how government employees work.

“GS-14— is one of 124 acts, including 13 political plays, being performed as part of the Capital Fringe Festival, which starts tonight.

This is the fourth annual D.C. festival. Founder Julianne Brienza traced the fringe movement to a rival festival held in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1947 when locals were excluded from a major international festival being held there. One of the essential themes of fringe festivals is that no overarching body decides which performances are good enough to be seen, she said. The first U.S. fringe festival was in Orlando, Fla., in 1992.

Audiences will have five chances to see “GS-14— at 1013 Seventh St. NW during the festival. (The address is for a building the festival is calling the Trading Post, which has been vacant except for temporary local campaign offices since the riots of 1968, according to Brienza.) The Freedom of Information Actors, formed by Georgetown Theatre Company Artistic Director Catherine Aselford for this production, will fill the play’s seven roles.

Actor Seth Vaughn, by day a staffer in the office of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), will play Hank MacElroy, the low-level federal manager at the heart of the story. The play opens as MacElroy’s wife and kids leave him, he gets drunk and gets into a serious car accident. That series of events causes him to re-evaluate his life, and he resolves to do his job strictly for the benefit of the taxpayer, without regard to certain regulations and office niceties. Understandably, conflict and hilarity aren’t far behind.

Vaughn, 35, said he can relate to this character because he’s been focused on his career and has stayed with the government even as he became disillusioned.

But MacElroy is “sort of further along in his federal career and I think more cynical than I am,— Vaughn said.

Vaughn, who has lived in the nation’s capital off and on since 2000, is a Foreign Service officer but was placed in Wyden’s office for a yearlong fellowship last August. He began acting as a child on Long Island, making his debut in an elementary school play called “Buffy R.—

“He was a consonant who wanted to impose his ideas on the other letters,— Vaughn recalled. He briefly appeared in a bit part on CBS’ “The Comedy Zone— later in elementary school.

More recently, Vaughn has made the extra effort it takes to stay involved in local theater both while he was often traveling for the State Department and now that he’s in the Senate. He said he once acted in a one-act play in Bangkok, and he regularly acts with the American Century Theater in Arlington, Va.

As a paid actor, Vaughn has to fill out paperwork and get approved to receive income outside his Senate job every time he’s in another play, so he can relate to his character’s frustrations with bureaucracy as well.

In “GS-14— a running theme is a conflict MacElroy has over an underperforming employee he wants to fire. The employee’s union fights back, and each side makes increasingly heavy demands until finally the manager gives up, according to Ford.

“I’ll tell you what, the union hates me, and if this employee will resign, I will resign, too,— he concluded.