Travelogues are a unique form of storytelling: as you stay stationary, someone else guides you across the globe. Playwright-performer Sheldon Scott brings a sense of forward momentum to his own travelogue Keys, Wallet, Phone, Dignity, now at DC’s Capital Fringe Festival. A striking account of his life that spans decades and countries, Scott’s solo performance is a moving look at his life, even if it’s a hazy portrait of the world he’s traveling.
Scott starts the show with a childhood story that combines free expression with humiliation—and he continues to fluidly move between both themes in performance. The play recounts his life as a gay, Black, 46-year-old man. In a nonlinear fashion, Scott describes his international sexual adventures as a “pilgrim and pleasure seeker,” the strange and often painful experiences of growing up in the American South, and the life he’s created for himself in DC.
Scott is a gifted performer. He delicately transports audiences to different locations and scenarios through his assured voice, and is unafraid to throw himself into silly physical comedy. Director Laley Lippard complements the show’s bawdiness with moments of quiet reflection, and sprinkles in light and sound cues that enhance Scott’s performance.
If there’s one thing that could be more fully realized, it’s the script. Voiceovers speak to colonization and gentrification, but often feel more like citations than dramatized elements of the story. Scott’s show also unintentionally creates a binary where sex is either ecstatic or traumatic—but what about hook-ups that are awkward, or mediocre, or frustrating? And while Scott speaks movingly about his friends and family, we don’t learn much about them beyond their names and physical appearances.
I wonder what Keys, Wallet, Phone, Dignity would look like if its scope were more communal. Within the show, Scott references his love of R&B star Jazmine Sullivan. Sullivan’s album Heaux Tales, with its spoken word interludes from a variety of Black women, feels like a spiritual sister to Scott’s project—I just wish Scott would similarly expand the horizons of his show to conjure those who matter in his life.
Still, if you can accept the more narrow focus of Scott’s show, there are incredible pleasures to be gained. Keys, Wallet, Phone, Dignity is a successful self-portrait, thoughtfully constructed but still raw. I’d travel with Scott’s words wherever he wants to take me.
Running Time: 75 minutes.
Director: Laley Lippard
Playwright: Sheldon Scott
Performer: Sheldon Scott
Sound Designer: Navi
Solo Production: yes
Age appropriateness: Appropriate for Adults Only
The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.