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Review | Outdoor setting suits Faction of Fools’ merry ‘Missed Connections’

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A rare butterfly is winging around D.C. and a celebrity chef would like to serve it for dinner. Great news for foodies, until the chef’s hunt for the insect in a local park runs up against an espionage stakeout, a social media influencer’s photo shoot, and a dimwitted lepidopterist’s plan to trade the same butterfly for a must-have residential parking pass.

That’s some of the enjoyably kooky plot in “Missed Connections,” the charming if occasionally roughhewn screwball comedy that Faction of Fools Theatre Company is staging outdoors at the Parks at Walter Reed. Written by its performers, and directed by Francesca Chilcote, the family-friendly romp boasts dialogue that’s peppered with puns, local in-jokes, Shakespeare allusions and at least one Bogart-Bacall zinger. Since Faction of Fools specializes in commedia dell’arte, the centuries-old street-theater form, that tradition’s stylized physicality and character types mingle with the breezy references.

Performer and composer Jesse Terrill presides over the gentle, fictional mayhem, playing the violin and other sound-making devices near the gazebo that is a backdrop to the principal stage area. Most of the show’s other figures wear colorful, commedia-inflected masks as they caper in and out of view, often employing the tradition’s exaggerated arm and leg gestures. (Tara Cariaso of Waxing Moon Masks designed and created the masks; Lynly Saunders the eye-catching costumes.)

The standout performance comes from Ben Lauer, whose Croquet Man almost minuets, rather than walks, as he sets out his wickets. Also very funny is Andrew Quilpa as Ranger Captain Emilio Montoya, a quirky patrolman who shouts out this story’s version of park rules (no more than one accordion may be played at a time!) and is an obvious nod to commedia’s braggart-soldier capitano figure. Natalie Cutcher’s snappy prancing enhances her portrait of Blackbird, a beret-wearing secret agent who hides a communication device in a croissant.

Some of the stage business lacks crispness, as with certain scenes featuring Colin Connor and Chilcote as rival butterfly hunters. And although it’s fun when a self-proclaimed book-club enthusiast (Deimoni Brewington) sings a song about Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” the character’s interactions with the chef, Robby Slay (Kathryn Zoerb, also the show’s movement director), get blurred and frenetic.

Arguably, the spoofing of D.C. power brokers and bureaucracy (including jokes about federal agency acronyms) aligns with the anti-authoritarian currents in historical commedia scenarios. But to enjoy the best parts of this impish show, you don’t need any knowledge of theater history — or, for that matter, butterflies.

Missed Connections, direction and script supervision by Francesca Chilcote; set designer and props artisan, Johnny Weissgerber. With Ruth Elizabeth Diaz and Desire Lovey Mae. 90 minutes. $15-$35. Through May 15 at the Great Lawn at the Parks at Walter Reed, 1010 Butternut St. NW.

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