Review: Four Intimate Screen Encounters (One From Far Away)

On the night I watched several of the short plays that make up “Here We Are,” I was at my laptop in the living room while one roommate cooked dinner in the kitchen, just a few feet away, and my other roommate shuffled in and out, doing laundry. Behind me, on the other side of our bay windows, the sounds of Brooklyn wafted in from the street: people chatting, cars going by, dogs barking.

I say this so you understand that when I tell you that “Here We Are” snagged my attention and held it, I’m not overstating things. “Here We Are,” a production of Theater for One, is made up of eight 10-minute microplays — all written by women of color — that pair a single actor and a single audience member. The four that I watched realistically re-created the experience of a private, personal exchange — except for one surprising extraterrestrial outing — but all remained grounded in the politics of our current moment.

How to describe these one-on-ones? My colleague Jesse Green, who favorably reviewed the first plays in the series (commissioned by Arts Brookfield), compared it to speed dating when you fall in love each time — agreed. Or you could say each sweet morsel, delivered with charged intimacy in this time of isolation, is like a truffle: small, delicious, refined — and over in an instant.

But I like to think of each piece like a ship in a bottle, presenting an exquisite piece of architecture within the narrow confines of the form.

ImageShyla Lefner discusses the history of voting in DeLanna Studi’s "Before America Was America."
Credit…Cherie B Tay

In “Before America Was America,” by DeLanna Studi, and directed by Tamilla Woodard, a Native American woman (played with radiant charm by Shyla Lefner) recalls how her grandmother taught her the importance of voting. And in Carmelita Tropicana’s “Pandemic Fight,” directed by Rebecca Martinez, a biracial woman (Zuleyma Guevara) realizes just how deep the gulf is between her and her white ex.

Both plays are presented matter-of-factly, as though scenes from a conversation with friend. “What Are the Things I Need to Remember,” by the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage is similarly framed. A Black woman (Eisa Davis), sitting in her kitchen, children’s drawings on the walls behind her, conducts a “memory exercise,” recalling the time in high school when she and a new friend tried drugs they found in Central Park.

Yet the director Tiffany Nichole Greene rarely keeps her stationary, urging Davis to fully occupy the kitchen. She stands, sits and makes tea, drawing out her lines with pauses and glancing toward the ceiling when she’s remembering some hard-to-grasp detail. When the story takes an unfortunate turn, Davis wilts into the corner of the room.

Credit…Cherie B Tay

Nottage’s writing feels relevant without being obvious; there’s no mention of pandemic or protests, but they’re pulsing between the lines. “I worry that if I don’t think about my past, my memories, you know, give them voice, then I will forget,” the woman says, so emphatically you can’t not believe the truth in what she’s saying — and the stakes attached.

But it’s the piece that gives the series its title, Nikkole Salter’s “Here We Are,” that comes out of left field to claim its spot as the showstopper. The charismatic Russell G. Jones is like a Black, expletive-spitting Captain Kirk — had Kirk ditched the Enterprise, loosened up and got woke.

Appearing in the dark with a mask and headlamp, the character is in the recesses of space, determined to start human society fresh — minus all the b.s. that we got ourselves into the first time, including climate change, colonialism and racial inequality.

“Yo!” he shouts, demanding attention, pressing with questions and waiting for answers. (Salter’s script, and Woodward’s direction, allow more space for improv than the other pieces, where audience responses are invited but not forced.)

The Earth is far behind us; our explorer tells us we robbed her of her beauty. “Here it’ll be different,” he declares — loud, potty-mouthed and cynical, yet hopeful despite himself. When he sees our planet come into view from his spacecraft’s window, he marvels at the sight.

I marveled too, from my own seat on Earth, in Brooklyn, with my computer on my couch: This is what it looks like to find a whole world from behind a glass screen, and find it closer than ever.

Theater for One: Here We Are
Performances each Thursday evening through Oct. 29;

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