Beneath the pandemic shroud which cloaks the world we live in, many observe an unavoidable loss of time, of days running together. When Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, first uttered the blithely humorous question, “What is a weekend?”, none knew how that phrase would take on new meaning to the masses under this lockdown. To most, something, anything, is desperately needed to break up the monotony of everyday existence, especially when one’s remote control ceases to provide.
Gabrielle Chapdelaine’s new play, A Day, translated from the French by Josephine George, live-streamed from the State Theater in Ithaca, proved just such a refreshing change to an evening otherwise slated for the oft-dependable Roku. Although not written during or for the pandemic, A Day could not have more perfectly captured the mundane 24 hours of its four characters, first introduced in the early hours of sleep, or lack thereof. Taking turns narrating each others’ existences, their worlds seem both unrelated and yet symbiotically joined together.
Jahmar Ortiz’s Alfonso clings to his naive optimism with the desperation of a rider about to be thrown from his saddle. He inspires both cheers and jeers from the other characters for his positivity, but Ortiz navigates the role with compassion, allowing the audience to always root for him.
Harris, a sardonic, bar-hopping egoist, is subtly played by Karl Gregory. Harris borders on being a hateful loser, but Gregory infuses the part with a subtle sympathy which cautiously endears Harris to the audience.
Erica Steinhagen blends her characterization of the listless and unmotivated Debs with an earnest sincerity and determination that raises Debs’ appeal beyond the sad sack that she embodies.
Sylvie Yntema’s fully dimensioned performance as the laced-up, perfectionist Nico is funny and yet heart-breaking. Nico desperately wants a best friend, and Yntema’s portrayal could win such a friendship despite Nico’s quirky and borderline social skills.
All of these fine actors show even more diversity and talent when they’re narrating the thoughts and actions of each other, taking on those characterizations in addition to their own. The voice and video actors, of which there are almost a dozen, are to be commended for bringing something special to their inserts, no matter how brief, especially Darcy Rose as the Co-worker(Wendy).
Imagining A Day presented on a traditional stage doesn’t conjure the same success that this production achieves in this mixed-video form. Apart from an initially distracting hum, the live-streamed result could not have been more effectively presented by video designer Noah Elman, who presents the actors in on-screen boxes in various locations with cleverly chosen “wallpaper” to go with the characters. Although the actors are physically siloed in their own green-screened compartments, deft staging by directors Samuel Buggeln (mise en stream) and Wendy Dann (performances) in coordination with Elman’s presentations keep the actors facing a wide variety of directions during their narrations in the on-screen boxes.
Throughout the dialog there are many vague references to movies, all of which are footnoted on screen during the video presentation. It’s hard to imagine how these footnotes would be made during a live staging, further making this mixed-video form an excellent choice to present this more literary aspect of the script.
The costume design by Sasha Oliveau and Olivia Kirschbaum are simple yet spot-on for the characters, and there is a delightful bit of choreography by Kaitlyn Jackson during a surprise dance and song number.
Chapdelaine’s writing is funny and sincere, thought-provoking and smart. There is a suggestion in the script that these four individuals could all be different facets of the same person, and in retrospect some staging and props do support that, but the suggestions are so subtle that they are easily dismissed as coincidence, perhaps intentionally. There is so much finely crafted personality in the characters’ dialog and narrative, and the overarching themes of isolation, desperation and loneliness are beautifully presented in the writing, performances and direction. Kudos on a fine production to all, and to the Cherry Artists’ Collective.
Put down the remote, pick up the mouse and watch A Day.
A Day (November 13 – 21, 2020)
The Cherry Artists’ Collective
Live-streamed from the State Theater in Ithaca, NY
For tickets visit https://www.thecherry.org/
Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission