What Is Swampoodle?

Ever ride the eastern part of the Red Line and wonder about that big arena-looking building right by the NY Ave station? Dear readers, wonder no more.

It’s called the Washington Coliseum (formerly the Uline Arena) and has a pretty storied history.  The Beatles played their first U.S. concert there in 1964, Bob Dylan played there, and it has also hosted sporting events and other various performances over the years. Alas, as our fair city decayed and crumbled, so did this venue. More recently, it served as a trash transfer station and now is a makeshift parking garage for the growing NoMa neighborhood.

Imagine if the Verizon Center was completely gutted and empty, and the echo of your lone voice ripples for nearly ten seconds. You’d be surprised just how big the place is and what grand potential it has. New-new 9:30 Club, anyone?

The venue’s potential is not lost on local theatre troupe Irish cultural center Solas Nua, who is currently using the space to host their newest play entitled Swampoodle, referring to the archaic name the neighborhood used to be called. The description promises “high-wire feats” and spectacular scenes. Sounds pretty ambitious…count me in!

Unfortunately, it’s a big disappointment. Despite the unique venue and style (the audience follows the actors around the arena), it’s a jumbled, confusing mess. About ten minutes in I wondered if I ought to just leave. Most of the action consists of the actors running around aimlessly proclaiming that there’s no script and the actors aren’t there yet. Sure, a little faux improv never hurt anyone, but it gets awfully tiresome as the play wears on.

It’s nearly impossible to hear the actors due to the echoing (not their fault, but the venue’s) , and the ‘spectacular scenes’ consist of [SPOILER] a bulldozer breaking a chair and a car driving through the crowd.

There’s no real story to speak of, just a collection of disjointed scenes and giant projections on the walls. You end up standing around on tired feet for over an hour desperately trying to decipher the echoes. Despite the interesting ending presented, Swampoodle sadly isn’t worth the price of admission ($25). I’d rather just pay a couple bucks to take a tour of this once-grand facility.

I give Solas Nua an A for ambition, but that’s about it. Grade – meh.

2nd and M St NE, runs through May 28th.

Written by Joel Church.


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