Virtual theater on the Cape was front-and-center this weekend with productions via Zoom of Wellfleet playwright Candace Perry’s “Made in Heaven,” produced by the Sandwich Arts Alliance, as well as “Impossible?”, a play by Lee Roscoe performed by the Eventide Theatre Company.
Both plays were testaments to the resilience of theater to adapt to the challenges of the times in terms of creating productions online as well as to the mission of theater to respond to social issues of the day. Both of these groups could have chosen straightforward, one-or-two-person plays that are familiar and less difficult to adapt to a virtual format, but rather they chose to tackle difficult current topics head-on. Both plays included lively and thoughtful talkbacks following the performances, especially the Sandwich Arts Alliance, which had invited specific panelists, along with the performers, directors and playwrights.
“Made in Heaven” came about because of an interest at the Sandwich Arts Alliance to explore how theater could be used as a tool to address racism. Alliance members Courtenay Harrington-Bailey and Cathy Ode spearheaded the project, teaming up with Ms. Perry to stage her short play, which addresses personal bias in a warmhearted way. The play was performed several times in 2019 on the Cape as well as in Ireland. The arts alliance performance was the play’s first time being performed virtually. “Made in Heaven” is well-suited for the Zoom platform. It features just two performers and the story is told mostly through dialogue and the recollection of memories.
Set in 1985, recently deceased Faye McBride is newly arrived in Heaven and meeting with the perky Marie Louise, a heavenly assistant. The pair are together to discuss the contents of Faye’s heart box that has matched her for all eternity, not with her husband, Eugene, but with her gardener, a Black man named Henry. Not only does Marie Louise have to help Faye see the truth about Henry; she also has to break the news that Eugene was matched to his former fishing buddy, Randy Forest. There’s also the revelation that God is a couple, not merely one supreme being.
It’s a lot to unpack in a short play, but everything works out convincingly and with good humor.
Karen Santos and Linda Monchik play Marie Louise and Faye respectively, and both women are good fits for their roles. Marie Louise is carefree, outgoing and dressed brightly in red, while Faye is a proper and slightly dour Southern woman. It is only when she gets immersed in her memories that her emotions trump her reserve. Janet Geist Moore directed the performance.
A similar background behind both women and the “passing” of props helped overcome the isolation of having the two performers be separated from each other.
The 15-minute play led to an hourlong discussion following the performance. Panelists for the discussion included the Reverend Margot Critchfield of Sandwich, Provincetown actor Sallie Tighe and Daniela Gil Veras, a 2020 graduate of Sandwich High School active in music and theater who, along with several classmates, raised the issues of racism and bias in the school and in the curriculum.
Without going too far into the discussion, one clearly made point was that simply including more actors of color in a production is not the simple solution to a complicated and longstanding problem.
Part of the talkback also addressed the challenges of performing on Zoom rather than in person, most notably having to look directly at a camera rather than at another actor. The Zoom format, while undeniably disjointed, also feels strangely intimate, likely because of this very issue. Rather than performers looking at each other, they are looking at you—the viewer—and if one is sitting at their laptop watching a performance, the actors feels much closer than if you were sitting in the back of a theater.
The Sandwich Arts Alliance plans to make their performance of “Made in Heaven” available to watch at www.sandwichartsalliance.org.
“Impossible?” is a full-length production complete with intermission. Like “Made in Heaven,” it was written to be performed live and in person, not by seven performers, each performing out of their own living room. Given the circumstances, however, the seven performers—Susanna Creel, Bonnie Fairbanks, Adolfo Herrera, Geoff Newton, Brandon Prentiss, Stephen Rourke and Skye Whitcomb—were still able to convey the alarming proceedings of “Impossible?” that take the viewer from election night anxiety to the full-on takeover of a fascist regime.
Perhaps the most alarming part of “Impossible?” is that the Ms. Roscoe wrote it, not during the current administration but during an earlier one in which she still saw the possibility of this seemingly impossible scenario.
“Impossible?” was part of Eventide’s 2020 lineup, scheduled to be performed this fall, meaning that, like “Made in Heaven,” it wasn’t chosen for its ease of Zoom transfer. But the performers made it work. Appearing in costume (at least from the waist up) with makeup and backgrounds to indicate setting, the play’s strength is in clearly defined characters, ones the audiences can invest themselves in.
The plot involves friends in a small New England town, a radio station owner, his on-again, off-again girlfriend, a self-important real estate developer, the handyman who is resentful of elitists, and the conservative farmer who finds his strength in nature. Ideologies collide when blustery Eddie Fabuloso is elected president, backed by the sinister Nikki Mugg. The plot would seem outlandish if so much of it had not already materialized in recent years.
Skye Whitcomb plays the likable everyman Dave O’Sulley, the radio station owner perplexed by the direction of the country and the breakdown of his town’s fabric as neighbors and friends turn against each other. Geoff Newton is compelling as Lemuel Granby who fancies himself as “not some small-time hick local builder.” Brandon Prentiss is chilling as local handyman Red Schmidt, who is all too willing to follow a powerful leader to feel powerful himself. Bonnie Fairbanks and Stephen Rourke are deliciously evil as Nikki Mugg and Eddie Fabuloso.
While many of the personalities fit a certain character niche, they are also nuanced enough so as to still elicit some compassion from the audiences.
The script echoes a variety of sometimes unfortunate truisms: “Reason is hard; emotion is easy”; “I’ll take someone good and dumb over someone smart and evil”; and “Tell them what they want to hear, then do what we have to do.”
Like “Made in Heaven,” “Impossible?” was followed by a lengthy question-and-answer period with the performers and the playwright. One of the challenges brought up was that of developing chemistry between characters when a cast is not able to rehearse together. Despite these challenges, the show packs a punch, one that would leave you talking in the car ride home from the theater—if that were a thing anymore.
“Impossible?” was performed live Saturday, October 24, at 4 PM and again Sunday, October 25, at 2 PM. A recording of the show will be available at www.eventidearts.org and on the theater’s Facebook page through Sunday, November 15.
While both shows were offered to audiences at no cost in attempts to merely offer theatrical performances to its audiences, both groups would be happy to take donations to put toward future shows. Given the amount of technical knowhow that organizers have had to acquire to bring theses shows to fruition, any and all donations are well-deserved.