New Repertory Theater’s Showstopper series lives up to its name with two new plays online
Two short but poignant new pieces leave audiences grappling with very different types of darkness. The two pieces, “A Very Herrera Holiday” and “[keyp-ing], “are part of the New Repertory Theater’s”Showstopper virtual game series“(through December 13), which features a live performance of a two-room package in one night that the public can see from the safety and comfort of their homes – though the effect is far from heartwarming .
Throughout the pandemic, New Rep has worked to keep spectators engaged through lectures, readings, virtual works and historical plays. This first “Showstopper” adventure featuring works written, produced and performed by women of color, lives up to its name. There’s expert acting by Amanda Figueroa (from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Dead House” from the Boston Playwrights Theater) and stage, television and film actress Jasmine M. Rush in plays for one. wife.
The first is “A Very Herrera Holiday” by Alexis Scheer, artfully directed by Sarah Shin. In a crisp white kitchen, blogger and lifestyle influencer Emma Herrera (Figueroa) shares a holiday drink recipe, gift wrapping tips and other festive entertainment in a live workshop. But it quickly becomes apparent that there is more than holiday cheer behind her saccharin plating when she casually begins to chat about her personal life.
She shows her fans how to make a leafy garland out of paint chips, tape and string, after telling her story of how she cat-caught her husband Kevin (or is that Brian?) While pretending to be a “ blonde girl named Molly in finance who thinks drinking rosé is a personality. ” To connect with him in real life, she tracks him down. She walks over to the neighborhood where he works and fits into her. path for weeks until the fateful-cute rendezvous.
As she recounts her whirlwind relationship, full of deception, Herrera undergoes some Freudian slippages. References to her husband’s trip are in the past, then in the present, then again. At one point, Herrera says she likes it when Kevin is traveling for work because she shows off when he’s at home. When he’s away, she can just unbutton his jeans. Her statement, “maybe I should just have jeans that fit me,” sounds like a metaphor. Herrera’s simple but sharp statement, constantly flipping her hair and changing positions for the best camera angles, sounds like a deep desire for authenticity for the too friendly to be real influencer that the husband lacks. Or is it the case?
Herrera de Figueroa dazzles with his affable nature and discreet performance. The young actress is unfazed as she talks about her love of craftsmanship as Alexa blows her ominous shopping list. Herrera initially comes across as the kind of girl you brunch with, then spend inordinate time perfecting an IG-worthy pose to commemorate the outing.
In “A Very Herrera Holiday,” Scheer’s clear and engaging writing style, coupled with the surrealism of the camera, allows us to get to know the bubbly Herrera. And Shin’s careful leadership helps draw audiences straight into Herrera’s warm kitchen. Shin, who most recently directed “The First Pineapple and Other Folktales” from the Central Square Theater, wants that to be the case. In her work, she creates space for “characters and (collaborators) to exist in their most daring and honest form,” she writes on her website. She longs for the audience to feel like they are coming for a home cooked meal.
Written by Miranda Austen ADEkoje and directed by Dawn M. Simmons of the Front Porch Arts Collective, “[keyp-ing]Follows Monica Jenae (Rush), a freelance producer who signs a contract to do a commercial shoot with a tight turnaround time. Instead of the pandemic, Jenae and the client agree to have their teams tested for COVID-19 five days before photographing and sharing the results. It sounds pretty straightforward.
Jenae saves her young all-black production team for free testing, but later discovers that there is a bottleneck at the city’s test sites. To meet the contract, the crew must get tested at a suburban test site and pay the high price. She reaches out to the customer to ask for help with the next steps, but the customer won’t intervene. She takes to Instagram Live to share her frustration.
In both games, the audience of new reps is encouraged to participate using the Zoom chat feature. There, a light conversation of liberal tendency prevailed. People offered their favorite holiday drink and intriguing moments for “A Very Herrera Holiday” and solidarity statements for Jenae in “[keyp-ing]. Noteworthy is the juxtaposition of this friendly Zoom joke with Jenae’s personal IG Live watchers whose comments – all part of the script – ranged from mundane to murderous. Coming face to face with the most aggressive comments could be ADEkoje’s way of getting us to see each other.
Some Jenae listeners understand the socio-economic challenges that make testing outside of town difficult. Others don’t. A commenter replies that “A car and $ 160 are not that necessary for a working adult.” Maybe not, but Jenae points out that three years ago, African Americans in Boston had a net worth of just $ 8. The data point she mentions is actually from 2015 “The Color of Wealth Study, “and was cited in 2017 in a Projector Boston Globe series.
While much of the dialogue is devoted to Jenae’s frustration with the tests and the client’s refusal to help, the real root of her rage is planted in systemic racism and oppression and how it “ plays out. reverberates up to testing bottlenecks and delayed results. “Her crew can’t afford the tests and she doesn’t want to turn down the gig.
To sort out the problem, she asks her husband, who will be directing the shoot, to pick up the guys and take them to the Norwell test center with him. She tells the public that Norwell is a 97.58% white city. The implied danger is obvious, but just in case someone doesn’t understand, Jenae explains, “I have a child in the next room whose father is in a suburban town after dark where the ‘a ponytail in the wrong direction could result in him losing his … his life.
Throughout Jenae’s IG Live, her toddler sleeps and her phone buzzes endlessly. While Rush is convincing as a frustrated Jenae, I can’t understand why she isn’t answering the phone. Does she sense that something is wrong and therefore chooses to put it off until later? Either way, ADEkoje’s insightful and researched writing along with Rush’s brilliant presence makes the play, which is part history lesson, part ventilation session, more engaging.
Later, when her toddler wakes up crying, Jenae walks away to care for her. It’s been hours since her husband went to get the crew for testing. In Jenae’s absence, the cat bursts into activity. “This is not the climate to drive among white people at night” and “Black women get killed too” are some of the things shared. Every few seconds there is the name of another black woman who has died at the hands of the police in the past and present. Breonna Taylor, Kathryn Johnston, Eleanor Bumpurs, Korryn Gaines, Sandra Bland, Atatiana “Tay” Jefferson and Tanisha Anderson are just a few. Intermittently, the thread is punctuated with responses such as: “BLUE LIVES MATTER”, “Trump 2020” and a cry to the Proud Boys. A person simply writes “die”.
Soon someone knocks on his door. Jenae turns off the camera and the screen goes black as the baby whines inconsolably. Is she recording another all too familiar American tragedy?
“Showstopper virtual game series“now runs through December 13. Captions and pre-show audio descriptions will be available for all performances.