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BWW Review: CLAUDIA, A VIRAL LOVE STORY at Profile Theatre


BWW Review: CLAUDIA, A VIRAL LOVE STORY at Profile Theatre

Of all of the new formats theatres are trying out right now, IMO the audio drama is the best. I've watched several pre-recorded plays, live readings on Zoom, and even The Old Vic's live streamed socially distanced performance of Duncan MacMillan's Lungs, and although any theatre is better than no theatre at all and I'm immensely grateful to all of the artists, the experience is so different from that of being in a theatre that I'm constantly reminded of what's missing.

Not so with the audio drama, a theatrical genre all on its own. Plus, after sitting and staring at a computer screen all day, it's lovely to be able to get my theatre fix while on a walk.

The first Portland theatre to dive into this genre is Profile Theatre, with CLAUDIA, A VIRAL LOVE STORY, available as a five-episode podcast. The play was written in response to playwright Paula Vogel's COVID-19 bake-off writing prompt, for which a group of writers are given 48 hours to create a play using certain "ingredients" (e.g., characters, scene suggestions). The result is a drama in nine scenes (by nine different playwrights), each of which takes one character from the previous scene and puts them into a new situation.

CLAUDIA begins at a fish market in Wuhan, just before the market is shut down due to coronavirus. This gorgeous scene, written by Hansol Jung, is a conversation between Momo (Barbie Wu) and her grandfather GonGon (Francis Jue) about love, family, and so much more. Characteristic of all of her work, Jung is able to capture the important things in life with an unrivaled combination of precision, compassion, and humor.

This is also where we meet Claudia (delightfully played by Val Landrum), a French-speaking, possibly magic pangolin that inspires people to follow their passions. In each scene, Claudia is passed to a new person, who usually hops on a plane, taking the story from Wuhan to Teheran, Milan, Mar-a-Lago, Hollywood, and back to Wuhan.

As perhaps is to be expected when combining the work of nine writers, CLAUDIA quickly becomes chaotic. After Jung's scene comes an equally gorgeous one by Hilary Bettis, featuring Momo and Atoosa, a cafe owner in Teheran who, since schools are closed, now must provide full-time childcare for her two boys.

After these two scenes, which comprise Episode 1, things get weird. The next several scenes feature unrealistic conversations and so many twists and turns that it's impossible to view them as the parts of the same story. There are hints of insights about the way we relate to other people, but they're overshadowed by a general confusion about what's going on. The middle section is also overstuffed with issues -- not just COVID-19, but racism, homophobia, conspiracy theories, the plight of undocumented workers, and so on. It's not until the final few scenes by E.M. Lewis and Anna Ziegler that coherence returns, bringing us back to where we started and offering hope in the face of calamity.

All five episodes of CLAUDIA, A VIRAL LOVE STORY can be listened to on the Profile Theatre website or downloaded wherever you get your podcasts. For more audio dramas, subscribe to Playing On Air, and also stay tuned for news from Artists Repertory Theatre's recently announced Mercury Company.

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