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What streaming theater should be
Philadelphia Theatre Company presents ‘The Days of Re-Creation’
The Days of Re-Creation is a brilliant series of seven 10-minute plays, each representing a day in the Genesis creation narrative. Commissioned by Live and In Color, an organization that promotes diversity in theater, and produced by Philadelphia Theatre Company, every play was written by writers of color and performed to perfection by a wildly talented and refreshingly diverse cast.
Keys to success
Set in a number of different times and places, each vignette incorporates video chat as a narrative device. Some characters connect online during the COVID pandemic, while others communicate across the vast expanses of time and space, or are simply separated due to conflicting needs and desires.
The in-person, live content that makes theater so intimate and enjoyable has made moving online a difficult transition for many institutions. However, bringing together a performance as engaging and diverse as the artists behind it, and incorporating the now-necessary viewing technology in a way integral to the plot, were key to the success of these features.
Each play was tonally distinct from its companions, and together formed a well-balanced and nuanced exploration of love, loss, separation, and the human condition in ways that are by turns hilarious and devastating.
The whole performance has a cast of seven, with each actor making multiple appearances proving their artistic flexibility and prowess. Every performer nailed the up-close-and-personal presence of a video chat, with the format allowing the audience to digest micro-expressions that would probably be lost in a traditional staging. The actors were so convincing in their multiple roles that I had to double-check the repeat appearances, despite what my eyes were telling me.
While audiences will loathe Gigi (Suli Holum) in B.D. Wong’s Three Karens, Holum immediately pivots and becomes the sympathetic and vulnerable Vee, whose partner recently died of COVID in The Strong Friend, and Company. Illustrating the violence of Asian silence in response to racism directed toward the Black community in Three Karens, Christine Toy Johnson as Karen Gee conveys equal meaning in what she says and what she leaves unsaid. And an impassioned, poignant monologue from Kimberly Fairbanks is so moving that I dare anyone to make it through without tearfully feeling her righteous rage.
Ang Bey stuns in all three of their roles in To the Stars With Love, The Nerd, and S.C.R.I., bringing crisp focus and definition to characters who are similar in their drive and confidence, but are tonally distinct as firm but gentle, righteously outraged, or overeager and overwhelmed in turn. Iraisa Ann Reilly manages to charm with chatty, outgoing characters who could easily have slid into the realm of irritating and self-centered, while Dolores Avery acted alongside Reilly twice in The Strong Friend, and Company and La Egoista as people who give and receive help with wildly different reactions to their roles in these exchanges of labor and love. J. Hernandez’s four consecutive appearances in SoilMates, To the Stars With Love, The Nerd, and S.C.R.I. took each of his characters on its own wide-ranging emotional journeys.
Sign me up
If this is the type of theater that’s going to be sticking around, then sign me up for other online programming from PTC. Days of Re-Creation is layered, exciting, and fresh. I can’t stop thinking about it, and I’m thrilled that I can share this thought-provoking virtual experience with friends and family outside of the Philadelphia region.
Image description: A collage of headshots of actors Ang Bey, Christine Toy Johnson, and J. Hernandez.
Image description: A collage of headshots of actors Dolores Avery, Iraisa Ann Reilly, Suli Holum, and Kimberly Fairbanks.
What, When, Where
The Days of Re-Creation. By Masi Asare, AriDy Nox, Erlina Ortiz, SEVAN, Nandita Shenoy, BD Wong, and Lauren Yee, directed by Rebecca Aparicio. Streaming through October 2, 2020. Free to access. More info here.
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