In commemoration of UTM’s 50th Anniversary, Theatre Erindale presented a special season of contemporary work called Theatre Now. The theme of this season is time itself, which is abundantly highlighted in the performance of 365 Days/365 Plays. Directed by Jamie Robinson, the graduating class of the theatre and drama studies department explores the political and social climate and themes from 2002-2003 that still resonate with us today.
On November 13, 2002, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks challenged herself to write a new play a day for an entire year. The product of her endeavor is an extraordinary testament to artistic commitment. In the performance program, Robinson says that when deciding which plays to use from 365 choices, he selected the ones with common themes that resonated most with him. According to Robinson, what is then portrayed onstage is the “actors’ own understanding of a post 9/11 worldview, where children’s eyes were sponging up whatever the adults and pre-social media outlets had to offer.” Their impressions truly leave audience members with nostalgia, laughter, heartache, and fear.
The lights of the theatre come up to reveal a rusted turquoise structure and a clock-like graphic on the floor, but instead of numbers around the circle, the months of the year are engraved. Suddenly, the cast runs onstage yelling “one” and “two” repeatedly, fighting over a clothing rack of flannels and camouflage jackets. They all run off as quickly as they came, leaving actors Soykan Karayol and Zenia Sethna alone onstage.
Dressed in traditional Indian clothes, they depict a couple arguing over whether or not to leave their homeland for a new country. Sethna portrays a woman resistant to leaving while her husband is encouraging her to take the leap of faith by saying, “Soon, you’ll get used to it and the habit of continuing on.” She agrees and the lights fade.
As mentioned above, what proceeds is a collection of short sequences about the political and social events Parks experienced while writing her plays. One of the political shorts memorable to me was a portrayal of a soldier (Kyle McDonald) casually whistling and unwinding his vacuum. When he realizes the rug in front of him is an American flag, he immediately drops to the floor in a dramatic act of cherishing the flag. He wants to clean it and when he goes into where the audience was situated, trying to find an electrical outlet to start his vacuum, he breaks the fourth wall when apologizing to the front row.
He is still finding an outlet when two female soldiers stroll in and disregard the flag, using it as a towel to wipe themselves and as a mat to eat on. McDonald returns and is appalled by their behavior, quickly cleaning off and vacuuming the flag. The two female soldiers then take turns inspecting him, patting him down, and hitting him with his belt. He is left feeling dismal and violated—the situation highlighting sexual misconduct in the military. Parks expertly uses this gender role reversal to exemplify the unjust treatment of women in armed forces.
Also noteworthy is the play regarding airplane precautions. Jake Settle portrays a passenger with a messy appearance, wearing a hoodie and ripped up jeans, while Peter Moceri portrays a businessman in a suit and carrying a briefcase. Settle asserts that he is going to sleep, but instead, covers one eye with his left hand and widely opens the other. When asked if he sleeps with one eye open, he replies that he does, so that he can “always be watching.” The flight attendant (Emily Clarke) begins to mime the standard safety precautions while on the aircraft, such as inflating a life vest and prohibiting smoking. When she finishes going through the routine, more actors join her onstage, miming through the precautions again. The routine is done for a third time with all the cast including the two passengers on board. I infer that Parks is highlighting the notion of heightened security in a post 9/11 world, as fear from the tragedy is still prevalently felt.
365 Days/365 Plays ran until November 12 at the Erindale Studio Theatre.