Rockville Little Theatre’s production of A Year of Giving is an extraordinary story and it makes for an extraordinary play. Reed Sandridge was laid off in ’09 and decided to give $10 a day to a stranger for a year to connect and to escape the trap in unemployment: thinking you have nothing to give. The other actors in the play (Devon DuPay, Steve Langley, and Patrick Miller) embody many of the recipients as Reed narrates his journey. Sasha Bratt was very busy as the director, lighting and sound designer.
Playwright Melanie Papasian combed through a year of Sandridge’s blog posts to create the script. She did an excellent job of balancing between the heartwarming and heartbreaking stories and the more mundane interactions that kept Reed grounded. She keeps the play from feeling too much like a testimonial. As Reed discovered, there are no boring people in the world and everyone he talked to had a story.
One Street Sense seller was a man from Ireland who was attacked with an axe during the “troubles,” came to America and used the $10 (combined with the other $17 he had to his name) to get on a bus to New York. One young grad student used the $10 to bake cookies for the people in his life every day whom he never “sees,” like the janitor at work or the person who hands him the paper every morning.
Some of the funniest stories were the attempts to give the money that didn’t go well. The first person he asked told him in no uncertain terms to get away from him. The second, who he assumed was homeless, turned out to be a Professor at American University. That is another thing that makes this fun, that he is a local and the people and the places are all familiar. You do get to see many of the recipients’ actual faces as the stage is hung with string and, as the play goes on, the actors pin pictures all over in a brilliant bit of staging.
Sandridge tells the story of the meetings with humor and joy, and also tells his own story and his journey through unemployment, the celebrity that the blog has brought him, and how his giving has affected him. The play could have been patronizing, but it’s clear from the beginning that Reed cares about the people he has given $10 to and he truly thinks of them as friends.
The real strength of the piece comes as Reed describes how his project grew bigger as people all around the world discovered his story through his blog, and how he has stayed in touch with many of them. The guy he gave $10 to on day 165 was in the audience and the very first guy he ever (successfully) gave $10 to was sitting on the street outside, shining shoes. Reed had lost touch with him for months before the play’s director ran into him in Chinatown hours before the show and Reed invited him by, and he was so thrilled to see him again.
Come to be inspired. Come to laugh. Come to cry. But before you do, be sure to ask yourself, “What would you do if someone handed you $10.00?”
Read more about the show and purchase tickets on our Fringe Preview.
Read Kevin O’Connell’s interview with Reed Sandridge.