Who: Arlekin Players Theatre
What: Live Zoom interactive theater art experiment
Where: Cherry Orchard Festival Zoom
When: Sunday, June 21, 28, July 5, 10, 12 free with RSVP, 8:00
Why: I’ve watched dozens of livestreamed presentations during the pandemic lockdown, from dance, theater, and music to literature, art, and political discussions. Among the standouts have been Richard Nelson’s made-for-Zoom What Do We Need to Talk About? for the Public Theater, a continuation of the Apple Family Plays; Martha Graham Dance Company’s reimagining of the lost 1937 solo Immediate Tragedy, comprising prerecorded movement from sixteen dancers, the Zoom boxes manipulated in breathtakingly inventive ways; On Site Opera’s To My Distant Beloved, in which a singer and pianist perform Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte over the phone for one person at a time, complete with emailed love letters about loneliness and isolation; and the Dropkick Murphys’ “Streaming Outta Fenway,” a furious live concert held in an empty Fenway Park, where they were joined onscreen by Bruce Springsteen from his home in New Jersey.
But the future of online productions might be best represented so far by Arlekin Players Theatre’s State vs. Natasha Banina, an online adaptation of the Boston troupe’s version of Yaroslava Pulinovich’s Natasha’s Dream, a solo work the company put on at the New Rep Theatre in February 2017. Part of the annual Cherry Orchard Festival, which focuses on Russian arts, State vs. Natasha Banina gets right in your face, literally and figuratively. The forty-five-minute drama features Darya Denisova as Natasha Banina, a young woman locked away in a claustrophobic white room, having been accused of a terrible crime. She speaks directly to the audience, which serves as a jury, as she describes what led her to commit the heinous act.
“See, that’s all a bunch of crap that they’re saying. None of that shit happened. Huh? You wanna hear what I did? Anything else you want?” she declares at the start. She draws on the walls, interacts with animation (from hearts to a spaceman), calls out the names of some of the audience members, and plays with her hair. It’s a sordid and gripping tale of obsession and mental illness, and Denisova gets deep under your skin with an edgy, brave performance boldly crafted for the internet. Director Igor Golyak, who is Denisova’s partner, shoots the live show from their living room, with choreography by Viktor Plotnikov, video by Anton Iakhontov, and music by Vadim Khrapatchev, all of which come together seamlessly. I can’t imagine that the award-winning 2019 stage version was more powerful.
The audience is asked to fill out a survey in the beginning, then render its verdict at the end. The play is followed by a Zoom Q&A in which Golyak and Denisova lay bare their fascinating process, eager to hear what we have to say about the various techniques and what the overall experience was like. Golyak has noted that State vs. Natasha Banina is “a new art form to overcome social distancing, the pandemic, and ultimately unite people in one virtual space by merging theater, cinematography, and video games.” He has also indicated that it’s not limited to the coronavirus crisis, that this presents a unique opportunity to explore the future of theater itself. There are only two performances left, on June 21 and 28 at 8:00; tickets are free, but donations will be accepted to support the Actors Fund’s Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund. [Ed. note: The run has been extended with additional shows on July 5, 10, and 12.]