Hartford Courant (Sunday)
and dramaturgical notes online, and the broadcast was followed by a heavy intellectual discussion of its themes that lasted longer than the performance. Like the live, in-person Cabaret shows, “Ain’t No Dead Thing” had a few scheduled performances, then vanished.
“Ain’t No Dead Thing” may actually have been improved from being adapted to another medium. It’s an intense social drama set during the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921, but the play sounds like it’s happening in the present day. Its language is loose and casual. It doesn’t dwell in historical facts, focusing instead on deep discussions of relationship issues like trust, equality and the mutual decision to become parents. It’s a weighty, thoughtful script I was happy to experience in any form, and which I’d love to catch again some day.
On the morning of April 18, cleaning the house on a rainy Saturday, I casually checked out the third round of the “Quick Quarantined Play Festival” which had just been posted by the New Haven-based Vintage Soul
Productions on its Facebook page. At first I felt comfortable just listening to the voices, but soon I realized how much I was missing so I stopped sorting magazines and sat down to watch. When I’d been through all the plays in round three, I watched rounds one and two.
These compelling playlets are each written within a 24-span by a range of different writers, then handed off to actors and directors who also have just a day to rehearse, stage and turn them into … videos?
No, seriously, they’re plays.
The unadorned monologues have the straightforward appeal of people pouring their hearts out in an enclosed space. They have a theatrical flair. The actors tend to emote in a worldweary, isolated manner, as if they’re crying in the wilderness. Their environments can vary from apartments to cars to plain paper backdrops hung on a wall. One of my favorites — “Master Chef Junior” by Lori Sinclair Minor, performed by Jhulenty Delossanto — sets up an anxious dinner date. It starts with a close-up, then brings you into a kitchen, then ends with a long shot of its dispirited star sitting at a table. Sounds filmic, but “Master Chef Junior” is fluid and raw and behaves like live theater.
An endearing young actor named Ben McCormack, who’s active in musical theater in Fairfield County, appears in a couple different lovestruck one acts, and sings REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” in both. Cin Martinez, whose Puerto Rican family drama “Pegao” premiered at HartBeat Ensemble last year, contributed a three-part saga of interrelated personal stories about an impending wedding, the postponement of which is seeding fresh doubts among the participants. Martinez isn’t the only playwright to turn the assignment into a trilogy: Emily Breeze, a Guilford native and former artistic resident at the Long Wharf Theatre, crafted the interlocking mysteries “The Warning,” “Essential” and “Answer.” Special visual effects and shifting angles don’t detract from the directness of the narrative. The opening “Warning,” moodily acted by A.J. Lovelace sets a mysterious tone, then is followed by two naturalistic female monologues that bring the drama down to earth.
Sharece M. Sellem, who conceived and produces the Quick Quarantined OneActs series, has declared that the project will continue through the duration of the current coronavirus shutdown. That’s a lot of anguish to pile on YouTube. These plays can be harrowing and full of despair. You feel like a voyeur watching them. But they are strangely comforting and so worthwhile. The fourth round was scheduled to be posted online May 2.
The same Saturday as my Quick Quarantine binge marked the live-online premiere of the Virtual One-Act Play Festival, a rather ambitious local project that brought together community theater mavens from throughout the state, and was organized by those with ties to one of the biggest community-based theater operations in the state, the Warner Theatre in Torrington. Scripts had been solicited from national playwrights, then prepared by local Connecticut talent.
The Virtual One Act Festival was presented, as most things are these days, in the flat multiscreen
Zoom manner, with each actor given their own screen. The festival had a lot of fun with this format, which suited the scripts in unforeseen ways.
One of the best things about live theater is that as much as it can try to focus your attention, your eyes can still happily wander — to the reactions of other characters, to the set, to the overall picture. Having each character in a play in their own little box can give an online theatergoer the same power. You can see someone gamely trying to stay in character, with minimum costuming or props or sets, while someone else, on a screen the same size, expounds mightily.
In “Just Desserts” by David McGregor, an actor who’d eaten poisoned food contorted his face endlessly while his castmates discussed his fate, then convulsed out of the screen altogether. Dagney Kerr’s “Initial Velocity,” a romantic duet about two joggers who have experienced love at first sight but who we fear will never meet and talk, was given a wonderful surprise ending when the characters suddenly appeared in one screen together; the play was cast with a married couple, Emily and Ian Diedrich, who are housebound together. Clever.
I’m not sure why it’s so important to me that these videos, recordings and glorified Zoom meetings be perceived as “theater” rather than video or radio, but that’s what I need them to be and that’s what they are: human, vulnerable, open, rough and natural, just stuck in a device for the time being until the doors open and the curtains part on proper stages again.