ANYONE BUT ME / THE OXY COMPLEX
IAMA Theatre Company / Pico Playhouse online
Through April 18, $15 per show, $20 per both
The solo show has seen a resurgence during the pandemic lockdown; it’s much easier to produce, even after theater companies were given permission to use their venues again, obeying all Covid-19 protocols and filming without an audience. Restrictions are such that the fewer performers and crew members who have to stay in a bubble the better, not to mention the difficulty of putting on a play in which all actors must remain at least six feet away from one another onstage. LA-based IAMA Theatre Company is in the midst of its third and fourth solo presentations, running in a kind of online repertory through April 18.
The ensemble’s spring season kicked off with Making Friends, written and performed by Tom DeTrinis and shot live at the Pico Playhouse, followed by Ryan J. Haddad’s Hi, Are You Single?, recorded live at the Woolly Mammoth in DC. IAMA’s two current shows explore female Latinx identity, in very different ways. In Anyone But Me, written and performed by Sheila Carrasco and directed by Margaux Susi, Carrasco portrays an administrative assistant, a grocery clerk, an elegant lady interviewing for a diversity VP position, an actress teaching a class, a Chilean refugee advising her daughter, and a high school senior with a dark secret. It all takes place in and on an octagonal wooden table with a large space in the middle where Carrasco, in a tight body suit, sits, stands, and dances, changing costumes in front of us and moving around props. (Justin Huen designed the set, with lighting by R. S. Buck and sound by John Nobori.)
“Real artists don’t take breaks,” one of her characters, who is preparing an online sexcast, says to her unseen friend. “Real artists work though the hard times, you know? We push past it; we thrive in it. We get to the truth. I need to raise the bar, right? It’s all about, um – it’s all about, Why now? Who am I, right? How am I pushing the needle forward, in a way that matters? Maybe I shouldn’t be creating anything at all right now. But if I’m not creating, then who even am I?”
Anna LaMadrid’s The Oxy Complex, directed by Michelle Bossy, was also recorded at the Pico with the same crew, but it is more of a theater/film hybrid, with each of LaMadrid’s characters undergoing complete makeovers involving hair and costumes and delivering monologues on distinct sets (a bedroom, a bar, a kitchen) while incorporating social media images. On her five hundredth day of quarantine, Viviana, on her back in bed, gently sings, “Rockabye, Covid, you ruined our lives / Because of you we’re no longer outside / I’m anxious and nervous all of the time / Because I’ve had friends who have lost their lives / The numbers keep rising / No one seems to care / They’re playing with fire / And I am so scared.”
Over the course of an hour, she details her fear, speaking in her mind as well as directly out loud to the audience, while also portraying her mother, who only increases her worry; Dr. Oye Me, who comments on Viviana’s personal crisis, explaining she has “skin hunger” and calling Oxytocin “the love hormone”; and an extrovert friend who is not about to give up sex because of the lockdown and convinces Viviana to find a man through a dating app. (“It’s not about Mr. Right; it’s about Mr. Right Now.”). Viviana’s loneliness runs so deep that she starts blaming herself. “Maybe I’m just unlovable,” she says, drunk and crying. Like Anyone But Me, The Oxy Complex is about women trying to understand who they are, in a society that still makes that difficult, especially during a global health crisis.
Who: David Zayas, David Denman, Andrea Patterson, Frankie Faison, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Dorina Castillo, Bryan Doerries, more
What: Dramatic reading of Aeschylus’s The Suppliants and community discussion on human trafficking, immigration, and the current refugee crisis
Where: Theater of War Zoom
When: Wednesday, April 14, free with RSVP, 7:30
Why: Theater of War Productions continues its exploration of contemporary times as seen through the lens of Greek tragedy and other classic(al) works with The Suppliants Project, a livestreamed all-star reading and community discussion taking place over Zoom on April 14 at 7:30. Previous virtual events have related Sophocles’s Antigone to the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, Shakespeare’s King Lear to caregiving and death during the coronavirus crisis, MLK’s “The Drum Major Instinct” to racism and social justice, the Book of Job to natural disasters, and Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex to the pandemic itself. Translated, directed, and facilitated by artistic director Bryan Doerries, the Suppliants Project features David Zayas, David Denman, Andrea Patterson, Frankie Faison, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Dorina Castillo reading Aeschylus’s The Suppliants, about fifty female refugees, the daughters of Danaus known as the Danaids, who are seeking asylum from forced marriage and domestic violence. They are joined by a chorus of Garifuna singers and musicians from Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala. The reading will be followed by a live, interactive discussion about the current battle over immigration and the refugee situation, copresented by Illuminations: The Chancellor’s Arts and Culture Initiative at the University of California, Irvine, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. Admission is free with advance RSVP.
Who: George Saunders, Keith Gessen
What: Livestreamed conversation
Where: National Arts Club Zoom
When: Wednesday, April 13, free with RSVP, 7:00
Why: In his latest publication, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life (Penguin Random House, January 2021, $28), Man Booker Prize winner and Syracuse professor George Saunders writes, “Why do we keep reading a story? Because we want to. Why do we want to? That’s the million-dollar question: What makes a reader keep reading? Are there laws of fiction, as there are laws of physics? Do some things just work better than others? What forges the bond between reader and writer and what breaks it? Well, how would we know? One way would be to track our mind as it moves from line to line. A story (any story, every story) makes its meaning at speed, a small structural pulse at a time. We read a bit of text and a set of expectations arises.”
Expectations always arise when new material is published by Saunders, a former geophysical prospector, roofer, doorman, and technical writer born in Amarillo, Texas, and raised in Oak Forest, Illinois. Books such as Lincoln in the Bardo and Tenth of December are among the best of the century. On April 13 at 7:00, Saunders will speak with editor, translator, author, and n+1 founding editor Keith Gessen (All the Sad Young Literary Men, A Terrible Country) in a live conversation hosted by the National Arts Club, focusing on A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which was inspired by the MFA class Saunders has been teaching at Syracuse for twenty years on the Russian short story; the book is structured around works by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol as Saunders ponders reading and writing. “Now your mind is not so blank. How has the state of your mind changed?” he asks. “If we were sitting together in a classroom, which I wish we were, you could tell me. Instead, I’ll ask you to sit quietly a bit and compare those two states of mind: the blank, receptive state your mind was in before you started to read and the one it’s in now.” Admission to the talk is free with advance RSVP.
Over the past year, we’ve all had to deal with grief and healing in unique and unusual ways, not being able to see ill love ones, attending Zoom funerals, and following national and international death counts as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Physical, psychological, and emotional distance has created space between us like never before, particularly for those of us facing loss. Writer, actor, comedian, journalist, documentarian, podcast producer, and musician Julie Piñero shares her painful personal tragedy in her online immersive one-woman show, Delejos (from afar), which continues with live Zoom presentations April 11, 17, and 22.
Broadcasting from a friend’s basement, Piñero explores her brief but passionate relationship with VR video game designer Jose Zambrano, who was working on a new project, “Delejos,” when a horrific event landed him in the hospital in serious condition. Piñero describes their love and celebrates her partner through drawings, family photos, Instagram posts, texts, punch lines, and song while discussing Carlos Santana, freezer dildos, Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory, Rick and Morty, an upstate treehouse, and the meaning of the word “saperoco.” She also tries to find her own identity amid her anguish.
“I wonder if he exists in this hybrid reality between this one and the ones he creates because it all seems to build to his newest project, ‘Delejos,’” she says. “He tells me about it on our first date. In the game he sends players on a journey to connect to something they love from afar. It’s a work in progress, but it’s unclear where he ends and where the game begins, because here in the real world he takes these little words from Venezuela and stitches across his T-shirts, and when I ask him what the word means it’s like I watch him cross the ocean to visit the place where he heard it first.”
Piñero takes us to some of those places, incorporating DIY virtual reality by occasionally asking the audience members — it’s up to you whether you want your camera on, although it is encouraged in order to build a tighter online community — to close their eyes and imagine a scene she lays out in detail. Those are powerful moments that stretch your imagination and put you in the middle of the story, which delves into grief and connection, magical realism, Latinx identity and vulnerability, and creativity in times of crisis. “His art doesn’t need a canvas,” Piñero says of Zambrano. Neither does hers, which comes together for a fascinating, and hopeful, finale.
Abingdon Theatre Company
Through April 7, free
Abingdon Theatre Company YouTube
If you’ve been drawn to travel to the Bel Paese because of Stanley Tucci’s culinary CNN series, Searching for Italy, you can only pray that your vacation doesn’t turn out like the Sussmans’. Amid all the new Zoom plays dealing with racism, misogyny, government corruption, the economic crisis, bullying, gun violence, sexual assault, Covid-19, and other critically important sociopolitical issues that have come to the fore during the pandemic lockdown, Abingdon Theatre Company has served up a deliciously delightful and mischievous meal in the inaugural free virtual edition of its “Around the Table” reading series. Written by Chris Sherman and directed by James A. Rocco, The Inferno is not a contemporary version of Florence-born poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri’s fourteenth-century poem, but it is a divine comedy.
Ben and Annie Sussman (Jordan Bennett and Cynthia Ferrer) are in Florence, but they are literally and figuratively trapped in the home they’ve rented for a few weeks from an excited broker (Summer Minerva), as the Magic City is in the midst of a roiling heatwave that leads to a blackout. They are joined by Annie’s brother, Joey (Robert Mammana), and his girlfriend, Karen (Lyn Philistine), as the needling and complaining fly in an old-fashioned, rapid-fire laugh-fest. After breaking a mug, Ben, who is contemplating retirement, worries, “It looks like a valuable antique. ‘Made in Italy’; oh no, this is probably worth a fortune,” he says. “Ben, everything here is made in Italy,” Annie replies. Karen, looking forward to experiencing all Florence has to offer, declares, “For one week of my life, I wanna feel like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.” Joey replies, “Don’t you gotta be in Rome for that?” And Annie explains to Ben, “I’m not gonna let your brother ruin our vacation; we have my brother for that.” The Inferno offers a much-needed ninety-minute respite from all of today’s troubles as we watch a family suffer through a European trip that we’ve all been unable to take for more than a year now. Is staying at home really so bad?
Who: Martha Graham Dance Company
What: Special “Martha Matinee”
Where: Graham Patreon
When: Saturday, April 10, $10, 2:30
Why: The Martha Graham Dance Company is getting ready for GrahamFest 95, a virtual celebration of the troupe’s ninety-fifth anniversary, scheduled for April 30 to May 2, with a special edition of its popular “Martha Matinee” program. On April 10 at 2:30, MGDC will present rare footage of Graham coaching young members of the company in her classic 1930 solo piece, Lamentation, set to Zoltán Kodály’s Piano Piece Op. 3, No. 2; archival photographs from Graham’s childhood and early years in dance; and a recent performance of Prelude to Action, from the 1936 antiwar work Chronicle. The event will also include a live Q&A moderated by Martha Graham Resources director Oliver Tobin. In addition to “Martha Matinee,” the company has kept busy during the pandemic creating the thrilling virtual production Immediate Tragedy, the beachside Opus One, and an online reimagining of the 1944 favorite Appalachian Spring in addition to streaming interviews, workshops, classes, and more, most of which is available for free here.