Anemic Anthems

'Anthems: Culture Clash in the District'

Is the story of Washington, D.C. — the quirks, flaws and distinctions that transcend the standard image projected day in and day out by the worldwide media — one that’s best left to outsiders to tell? Arena Stage would say “yes,” judging by its commissioning of the L.A. theatrical outfit Culture Clash to visit Washington over the course of two years and mine the city for tales of the “real” D.C. Unfortunately, the outcome, Anthems: Culture Clash in the District, is as superficial and unfulfilling as a glossy book of cheesy postcards hawked to tourists by a street vendor.

For all the site-specific effort such a project suggests, lead Anthems playwright and featured actor Richard Montoya devotes far too much attention to devices of either his own creation or generic embellishment. A neurotic zoo panda who won’t put out because he’s gay? A vapid society matron whose post-9/11 gala must go own (lest the terrorists “win”)? The playwright himself as a central figure, so that searching for civic identity distracts from celebrating what’s here to be found? Some of the material may be mildly amusing, but overall Anthems is far from anthemic, and far from insightful.

Through Oct. 13th at Arena, 1101 6th St. SW. Tickets are $34 to $50. Call 202-488-3300.

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