BWW Review: The 24 Hour Plays' VIRAL MONOLOGUES Takes Site-Specific Theatre Further Outside The Black Box
When thinking of site-specific theatre, visions of following actors through a forest as they play out A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM or sitting in a musty old playhouse for a mounting of FOLLIES may dance through your head, but in these days of government-regulated social distancing necessitating the suspension of live performances, one must think even further outside of the black box.
Take, for example, The 24 Hour Plays, that worldwide sensation that, since 1995, has been matching actors, playwrights and directors to write, rehearse and perform on stage brand new theatre pieces in just two revolutions of a clock.
As originally announced by Artistic Director Mark Armstrong, the big innovation for this year was to be a series of 24 Hour Plays podcasts, each documenting the work of four playwrights, four directors and eight actors, with the first premiering in front of a live audience on the evening of March 16th.
As we all know, fate had other plans, but thanks to the off-the-cuff nature of the project, a swift change of direction was inspired by an idea from theatre journalist/arts administrator Howard Sherman.
So on the 16th at 6pm, twenty actors submitted getting-to-know-me videos to twenty playwrights and an hour later, one-on-one matchups were determined. The next morning at 9am, each actor received a monologue to record in front of a camera (no directors are credited) which were released online at 15-minute intervals, beginning at 6pm.
The 24 Hour Viral Monologues, which can all be viewed on the company's website by clicking here, may not exactly be deemed as live theatre, but there a site-specific nature to the overwhelming majority of them, as the actors portray characters who are videoing themselves and, in a sense, casting "audience members" as their viewers. And there's also a time-specific nature, as most of them present situations related to the current health emergency.
For example, in David Lindsay-Abaire's "A Story of Survival", viewers are cast as fans of an Internet makeup tutorialist (played with rich comical sincerity by Rachel Dratch), receiving tips on making Bacardi-laced hand sanitizer ("Tastes like Arruba.") and learning of her recent shopping trip where coughs were used as weapons against those who might snatch the last remaining bottle of Purell.
In Jenny Rachel Weiner's "Live, Laugh, Life" Tavi Gevinson speaks in calming tones as she expresses to her viewers how "performing virtual reiki on you as an aspiring healer/blogger has been the highlight of my career" and advises us to "shoot for the moon, because even if you miss, you'll land on the sun."
Viral Internet fads are spoofed in Rachel Axler's "The Challenge" where an eccentric fellow (David Cross) sporting a Navy Admiral's cap sits in a bathtub recording himself after being nominated to accept the Bag 'O Buns Challenge.
In a more immediate vein, Kathleen Hale's "A Little About Me", casts us as the new roommate of a woman played by Isabelle Fuhrman, who is sitting in the next room as she FaceTimes her ideas for the safest arrangement possible for use of the shared bathroom in this time of social distancing.
Marin Ireland is extraordinarily touching in Lily Padilla's "the woods are a good place to pick me up" as she records a video application for removal from Earth to be seen by an alien life form ("I've been dreaming of other places my whole life."), as is Amy Hargreaves in Shara Feit's "Secret Agent Amy Hargreaves' Application for the Super-Secret Society of Secret Agents!!! (As Filmed by Amy's Assistant Agent Fred)", which starts as a cartoonish career pitch and evolves into an admission of helplessness. ("I can't fight what's out there... I can't fight disease. I can't fight callous mismanagement of government.")
You know those rants that people impulsively post on social media that are so wildly entertaining they get viewed by millions? Stephen Adler Guirgis has that covered in "L.A. Yoga Motherfuckers" where Andre Royo publicly admonishes the Bernie Sanders supporters in his yoga class who kick him out for saying a few kind words about Joe Biden.
In one of the two pieces that does not offer the reality of a characters intentionally recording themselves, Patrick Wilson's deadpan seriousness totally sells Monique Moses' "Simon: A Real Estate Guy", where the title character flashes a dazzling smile as he informs a potential buyer that a framed poster of the metal band Ratt "increases the value of the house tenfold."
But given the current world situation, the strength of these aptly named Viral Monologues comes in the realistic contact between self-videographer and viewer, especially when reference is made to our mutual isolation. They may not be live, but these site-specific pieces are immensely theatrical.