Sunday, February 19, 2023

"Code You" by Exposed Brick Theatre at Dreamland Arts

Exposed Brick Theatre, "dedicated to telling untold stories, centering omitted narratives and creating art at the intersection of identities," was founded in 2004, and somehow this is my first experience with them. Last night I saw the new play Code You, written and directed by Nora Montañez Patterson, at Dreamland Arts, a sweet little venue on Hamline Avenue in St. Paul that I haven't been to since pre-pan. Code You is one of several plays to come out of Exposed Brick's 2020 "Through Our Eyes" program, in which they commissioned eight playwrights to write plays "in response to the multiple pandemics impacting MN communities." Code You starts out as fun and trippy multiple-reality narrative about friends just hanging out and having fun, but there's an undercurrent of something more sinister happening, and things get serious real fast. The short run continues for one more weekend only, and the hour-long play is short, sweet, and to the point, bringing back the fear of the unknown from those early COVID days and reminding us what we all went through.

Sometime in mid-2020, our main character (played by Julia Isabel Diaz) comes home to her apartment after a safe, distanced, outdoor meeting with her parents, who are still hanging around outside. They've loaded her up with food, so she'll be able to stay safely inside. The quiet night begins to take a turn when Bite Squad delivers food she never ordered, followed by three of her friends (Ankita Ashrit, Johanna Keller Flores, and Emmanuel L. Woods) showing up unannounced and unmasked. When she questions them and chides them for their unsafe pandemic behavior, they have no idea what she's talking about. She soon realizes she's entered an alternate universe in which Hillary Clinton is the president, and there's no COVID. She eventually sheds her pandemic fears, even rekindling a romance with her sort of ex (José Sabillón). But despite the fun party atmosphere, something always feels a little off, and the two worlds collide. I won't spoil the ending or how it relates to the title, but it's a sober one, reminding us of the cost of the pandemic.

Playwright/director Nora Montañez Patterson navigates the tonal shifts well, from a sort of zany party atmosphere, to the very real threats of the pandemic. Julia is very appealing as the main character, and the play works because we empathize with her and believe her in her fluctuating emotions throughout the story. Dreamland Arts' intimate space (it seats about 40) allows us to feel up-close-and-personal to the story. The performance space has been turned into an apartment with just a few pieces of furniture - couch, coffee table, cabinet with supplies - and a door. Video projections of a medical drama on Netflix that the characters are watching appear on the back wall, featuring the cast in recorded scenes. Characters are dressed in modern hip clothing (costume and props design by Simone Bernadette Williams, projection design by Peter Morrow).

My week of theater was bookended by plays directed by Latina women (see also DalekoArts' Native Gardens directed by Adlyn Carreras), which is a good sign for the increasing diversity of storytellers in #TCTheater. For the last several years we've been seeing a lot of actors, particularly women and people of color, step into the directing role, increasing the diversity on both sides of the table. It sounds like that's right in line with Exposed Brick Theatre's mission, and I look forward to seeing more of them.


Join me and my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers for a special event at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres! Get $20 off the ticket price for the March 4 matinee performance of the regional premiere of the super fun and heart-warming musical The Prom, and stick around after the show for a talk-back with some of the cast. Read my review of The Prom here, find more info about the event in the Facebook event here, and purchase discount tickets using code TCTB1 or by clicking on this link (discount valid for any performance through March 12).