New Play FLAMINGO Explores Why We Were Unprepared For COVID-19

Now streaming online for free.

By: Dec. 16, 2020

Florida is among the states that has been most profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. How did spread of the coronavirus get so bad in Florida so fast? What role has Governor Ron DeSantis - who resists basic public health measures - played in the catastrophe.

These questions led Washington, DC playwright Richard Byrne to read widely in news accounts of the early days of COVID-19, not only in Florida, but also in the chats and email chains of experts who saw the wave coming and were powerless to combat the lack of leadership in federal and state agencies that protect public health.

This research fueled Byrne's new short play, Flamingo - which is streaming for free online now.

The play dramatizes Florida's unpreparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic through a monologue by Bonnie - whose career trajectory leads her from tax preparation to medical debt collection to a key position at a county health department, where she is in charge of making cuts to public health spending demanded by Florida's state government.

Bonnie says: "We cut per capita health spending in half. Well, almost. Close enough. And no one important noticed. Except the bosses. They said: 'good job.' See, I always made it work. And maybe my being good... freed up their imaginations. About the cuts. Sometimes I thought they suggested a cut just to see if I could get it done."

As the coronavirus crisis takes hold, Bonnie and her colleagues are unprepared for the immensity of it:

For me, the worst thing was we needed more money. Right away. Cutting money's easy, but you try finding it. Especially when everyone wants it and there isn't any.

Byrne's imagination was also sparked by the case of Florida data scientist Rebekah Jones, who was terminated from her state job for refusing to alter statistics, and has since been targeted by state law enforcement under dubious circumstances. "In moments of crisis, governments that wish to erase the scale of the catastrophe - and their culpability in it - will spare no effort to do so," says Byrne. Even if that means the careers and lives of those who speak truth to them."

The play features Brooklyn actor Rebecca Kush as Bonnie. Flamingo was directed by Andrew Bellware of Pandora Machine Films and produced by Laura Schlachtmeyer as a coproduction between 920 Productions and Pandora Machine.

Flamingo was shot in a completely socially-distant manner, with the actor and director in Brooklyn, and the producer in Washington, DC using a hybrid of Zoom and other cameras and audio equipment. The rooftop shoot was conducted with the director using a long lens to keep a 12-foot gap between himself and the actor.

Richard Byrne's plays have been produced by Taffety Punk Theatre Company, WSC/Avant Bard, and in the 2019 Capital Fringe Festival. He has won first prizes in the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival and the Prague Post Playwriting Festival. (