Baggage Claim

Passport extols the painful joys of travel and the universal search for companionship.

A true globe-trot by local playwright and experienced traveler Bret Fetzer, Passport takes audiences around the world in eight plays, with one visit to each continent and a final stop hovering in orbit. Fittingly, Passport is performed by the itinerant Annex Theatre in its new home, the cozy Gail Stellner Studio at the Capitol Hill Arts Center. Also comically appropriate is the envy with which seated patrons will eye the first-class "passengers" who, with an upgraded ticket purchase, can forgo the hard-backed folding chairs for a posh padded seat and moist towelette.

Each 10-minute voyage on Fetzer's world tour contemplates companionship and the accompanying trials of love, sex, and intimacy. With a kaleidoscopic selection of incidental music, dancelike scene changes, and a set made entirely of suitcases, director Rachel Katz Carey transforms the compact stage into exotic destinations: a Venetian gondola, the Great Wall of China, and . . . a central Kansas truck stop. The bags make flexible building blocks for everything from Peruvian temples to hot-air balloons, props for the airportlike transitions between one destination and the next, and thematic reminders of a life in motion, a transient existence, and, moreover, the baggage we bring to our relationships.

Passport is a show well suited for the small stage. The intimacy of Stellner Studio and the play's raw, R-rated dialogue convey the in-your-face culture shock of self-discovery with startling truth. Fetzer, known for his collections of fairy tales as well as previous theatrical works like Bob Is Dead and The Changeling, spares no imagination imbuing his colorful characters with rich detail. For the cast of eight, including Fetzer himself, Passport is an odyssey through multiple gender-bending roles that give the illusion of a company twice as large. Only one character, Dagmar (Pamala Mijatov), appears as an amusing constant in every skit. The cast isn't universally strong, but together they admirably deliver the giggling highs and somber lows of Fetzer's script, balancing engagingly between fairy-tale absurdity and cosmopolitan realism. There are a few moments of awkward overacting and rambling descriptive passages as the story stumbles to compensate for its spartan suitcase setting, but the cast overcomes these bumps in the road by getting back on track with the good stuff—the emotive character interactions.

Like life itself, Passport's message is not so straightforward. While it's hard to glean a universal moral from any one segment, this is clearly not a performance that idealizes companionship. In many of the eight fables, love is purely circumstantial: "O Solo Mio" follows a lonely bachelor yearning for someone to enjoy his money; "The Parable of Myrtle" chronicles a young girl's struggle to quash her brother's burgeoning romance with an ape; and "Along the Wall" sees an ambassador's wife experiment in the realm of lesbian intrigue. Despite similar themes, each act has a distinct flavor of touching humor and irony all its own.

Passport is not a "safe" play. It's a roaming wayfarer, and the places it goes are likely to unsettle some viewers. But what it sacrifices in terms of stability and consistency, it gains in a wider appeal. Just like travel, Passport is uncomfortable and exciting, alternately real and larger than life; it reinforces the familiar sense that although you never know where life may take you, it's not the journey that matters but whom you meet along the way.

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