Seed Art Share’s Our Stage, Your Screen: An Evening of Zoom Plays is an impressive pageant of local talent, even if it sometimes struggles to circumvent the shortcomings of its platform. The premise of each of these six short plays is the same, a fictional Zoom call.
The first play in the series is “There’s No Place Like Home” — written by Lorelei Lemon and directed by Renee Wimberly — which recounts an elementary school’s taped-together Zoom production of The Wizard of Oz. Grounded by seamless pacing, choreography and charming homemade special effects, an outstanding ensemble managed to overcome technical difficulties and delivered some punchy performances opening weekend.
Similarly impressive for its creative screen craft was “When the S*** Hits the Fan”, written by Alan Maule and directed by Tara Nicole Williams. The tale of a fearful man’s obsession with self-defense, Maule’s darkly witty script was amplified by the hilarious slapstick performances of Sean A. Brosnahan, George Labusohr and Laura Levine. Cinematographically, this play distinguished itself as the most dynamic of the series, presenting a creative and visually enticing array of shots which served as an antidote to the “Zoom stare” that may settle over an audience after a few hours of screen time.
By contrast, rather than manipulating the camera angles for artistic effect, “Survivalism” – written by Adrienne Earle Pender and directed by Barbette Hunter – expertly took advantage of the visual and communicative limits of a Zoom call to create a sense of claustrophobia and suspense. Effectively a distress beacon from one survivor to another, after an unspecified catastrophic event wipes out most life on earth, the play cleverly frames our reliance on self-isolation and telecommunications in this era of pandemic and quarantine.
Not all of the plays of Our Stage, Your Screen utilized the Zoom format as well, however. In its attempt to be topical and heart-wrenching, “Near Kisses” – written by Tamara Kissane and directed by Aurelia Belfield – fell short of the mark in convincingly dealing with the direct and indirect effects of COVID-related survivor’s trauma. Kissane and Belfield clearly have good intentions, but the play has all the stilted and compressed sentimentality of an afterschool special. Much of its dialogue is repetitive and glib, ultimately failing to achieve a convincing tone in its short duration.
“I Looked You Up” – written and directed by Ian Finley – also struggled with creating convincing dialogue and character development. One of the shortest plays in the series, this script reproduced the trope of the “one-who-got-away” without adding much originality. A brief tête-à-tête between two ex-romantic partners ends abruptly with a shoe-horned quote by Proust, which manages to be pedantic even as one of the characters suggests that he doesn’t want to sound pedantic by quoting it.
The final production in the series, “Benchmarks” – written and directed by Rebecca Bossen – was an amusing take on a meeting between a parent and an occupational therapist, played by Jessica Flemming and Jess Barbour respectively. Although our current social climate has caused fear and misunderstanding and reduced some to treat each other more like puppets than humans, the metaphor here of using paper dolls felt a little heavy-handed and fell somewhat flat.
Though the vignettes are hit or miss, some exceptionally good actors, writers and technical crew have collaborated to produce an entertaining show that is not only worth the time, but also manages to make Zoom less tedious, something of a minor miracle, to be sure.
Seed Art Share’s Our Stage, Your Screen: An Evening of Zoom Plays runs through February 27th. For ticket information visit the company’s website.
For a complete schedule of Triangle theater events, visit the RDU on Stage Calendar.