Monday, December 7, 2020

"Is Edward Snowden Single?" streaming from Jungle Theater

Jungle Theater's first ever virtual play Is Edward Snowden Single? is one of the best uses of this new medium that I've seen. Playwright Kate Cortesi wrote the play before this pandemic shut down all live performance, but the Jungle team has turned it into something that feels like it was written for this form that is sort of theater but not really, and sort of film but not really. Combining illustrations, animation, and fantastically versatile performances by two actors in front of green screens in separate locations, not to mention some pretty great voice acting, they tell this story of two best friends trying to navigate life, love, work, and the truth in a truly fresh and innovative 2020 kind of way.

In this meta play-within-a-play story, BFFs and roommates April (Isabella Star LeBlanc) and Mimi (Becca Hart) are aspiring NYC actors who tell their own friendship story in play form. We learn all about April's new boyfriend Josh, Mimi's coffee shop co-workier and crush Gavin, the family who owns and runs the coffee shop, and more. We also meet Edward Snowden (voiced by Eric Sharp), on whom Mimi develops a crush and imagines that he's talking to her (in the form of an adorably bespectacled teddy bear). April and Mimi play all the roles, sometimes trading roles between or within scenes, even playing each other if the scene calls for it. The brilliance of Isabella and Becca's performances is not that they're playing multiple characters, but that they're playing their character playing multiple characters. And the way they do that reveals something about who April and Mimi are. They have great fun with the varied accents (with help from dialect coach Keely Wolter), sometimes repeating lines multiple times, each more ridiculous than the last. In fact the entire play is great fun, until we begin to realize that one of these women is perhaps not a reliable narrator, and the friendship is more complicated than it seems. We don't know whom to believe any more, or whom to root for.

April (Isabella Star LaBlanc) and Mimi (Becca Hart)
(image courtesy of Jungle Theater)
The entire team did a wonderful job translating this stage play into a virtual play, under the leadership of director Christina Baldwin. In addition to acting, Becca also did the cute and cartoonish illustrations, which were animated by Sara Richardson. The actors performed in front of green screens (which we see when they both individually pop out of the play-within-a-play to get real with the audience), which allows them to be moved around in various configurations on screen, mostly against a solid color background. It's really ingenious how the whole thing is put together (with video design and editing by Kathy Maxwell, and sound design by Sean Healey). All of these separate artistic endeavors, presumably much of it being done from each artists' home, come together to create a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts. Is Edward Snowden Single? is wonderfully creative, effective, and affecting storytelling.

All of the challenges and tragedies of 2020 have forced artists to get creative in new ways, to re-think the way they make art, and audiences the way they consume art, which has the potential to make this thing we call theater better than ever. Necessity is the mother of invention, maybe it's the mother of art too. Artists have to make art, and they'll find a way to do it under whatever restrictions they find themselves. Is Edward Snowden Single? is a fantastic example of what can result from that. Nobody wants to get back to live theater more than I do, but maybe the lessons and skills learned during 2020 will serve us well when we do.

Is Edward Snowden Single? is available through December 20. For more information and to purchase tickets (either for this single show, or as a package with the Jungle Serial audio play series), see the Jungle website.