By Shelli Park
Necessity is the mother of innovation, to add my twist to the well known, and currently much used, proverb. The proverb resonates these days as the entertainment industry struggles to survive our current “stay-at-home” lifestyle.
Burien Actors Theatre (BAT) responded nimbly with innovation to finish out the 2019-2020 season in a manner accessible to anyone with a device having internet capability. BAT’s 2020 Shelter-In-Place Season is a series of six plays presented through the widely used Zoom meeting application.
The first play, The Letters, produced May 2-3, is a play that BAT produced in 2016. Here is the opening of my review of that production:
“Fear is a powerful emotion. Throw in a dose of envy, insecurity, attraction and illusion of power and you have an intriguing scenario.
The Letters, skillfully written by John W. Lowell, is a timeless story. Through the power of the dialogue, perception and perspectives shift.
It begins simply enough. The scene is a stark office adorned with photographs of Lenin and Stalin. The glass in the office door reads ‘Director’.
A woman enters, nervous.”
The roles are played by the original actors, Devin Rodgers as Anna, and Michael Mendonsa as the Director of Ministry. The director is Beau M.K. Prichard.
It is an exceptional experience to be able to compare a traditional stage-based production with the current live online reading of the play involving the original actors.
I remember that the original BAT production was arresting. When I’m watching a play with the purpose of reviewing it, it is dangerous when a performance is so good that I forget that I’m supposed to be paying attention, and get lost in the action. That was my experience in 2016.
So now, to the present.
I watched The Letters at my desk, on my laptop. I was sitting about 20 inches from the screen, which means 20 inches from the faces of the actors. Each actor inhabits their own rectangle on my screen. Anna sat in front of a white background to the left, and the Director sat in front of a black background on the right. The beginning was a little awkward, I think, because that is built into the story, and partly due to the novelty of the format. To interact with another actor with convincing and appropriate emotion, without the benefit of that actor’s physical presence, must be challenging.
It did not take me very long to get lost in the story. Rodgers and Mendonsa are superb actors, and to be so near to the action, it is as if I was right there on stage with them. The experience is like a cross between a film all in continuous shot, all in closeup, and a traditional reading. I could read every emotion on their faces. As I was watching, I found myself wondering if I actually prefer being right in the thick of things, feeling the feelings, witnessing the manipulations and frustrations, up close.
Both forms, the traditional, and the new born out of necessity, have their place. The art of stage design, and direction would be lost if the stage lights went dark forever. But I would not count this new form of entertainment as something that should go away when we can once again gather together. And this new form has garnered BAT a bit of national attention, which is well deserved.
BAT is producing five more plays, one which happens this weekend, Ripcord, a fun comedy. I suggest checking out at least one, if not all, of the productions. To support Burien’s local theater in this difficult time would be reason enough to ‘attend’ the shows, but I think that you will find the experience to be unquestionably unique and worth the time.
RIPCORD PREMIERES THIS SATURDAY, MAY 16:
Ripcord, a comedy by David Lindsey-Abaire, is the story of two crafty combatants: The widows Abby Binder and Marilyn Dunne have it out in an increasingly outrageous skirmish for the right to sleep in peace at the Bristol Place assisted living facility.
Marilyn insists nothing makes her angry, while Abby says she is never, ever scared. So the two make a bet. If Abby can make Marilyn lose her temper, Marilyn will move out. That is, unless Marilyn frightens Abby first. In that case, Marilyn gets to have Abby’s bed, which is right next to the window and has a lovely view of a park.
To get what they want, the pair resort to bizarre tactics and drag everyone around them into the fray.
Please note the script contains a little adult language, including the “f” word.
- Abby – Maggie Larrick
- Marilyn – Rochelle Flynn
- Scotty – Adrian Cerrato
- Benjamin / Clown / Lewis – Steve Murphy
- Colleen / Woman in White – Jessica Robins
- Derek /Zombie Butler / Masked Man – Jesse Calixto
- Stage directions – Devin Rodger
- Rochelle Flynn
- Maggie Larrick
More info on BAT’s Shelter-In-Place season is available here.