The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting
archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new
shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of
watching live theatre
Public Theater and YouTube Summer 2020
New York's Public
Theater is outside our usual remit, but by offering a new and
original work online it attracts our attention.
The Line fits into
the new genre of Zoom theatre, with actors in their own homes acting
for computer cameras. It is more effective than most because the
script is a string of intercut monologues, so there is not the
obstacle of one screen trying to talk to another.
It is also verbatim
theatre, drawn by writers Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen from
interviews with front-line health workers in New York City in the
first months of 2020.
We meet, sitting in
their separate homes, an
ambulance driver, a paramedic, an emergency room doctor, an intern, a
couple of nurses, and a care home director.
All start by giving a
sense of the stress and frantic nature of their 'ordinary' days while
touchingly communicating their commitment and the personal
satisfaction they get from doing their jobs well.
And then Covid
hits, and New York City turns to hell. A system that was getting by
through the dedication of people like these is overwhelmed.
must turn away patients because they have no beds. Protocols, systems
and rules go out the window. In the absence of respirators and other
equipment substitutes are borrowed, invented or jerry-rigged on the
spot. Emergency rooms are turned into triage stations in which
doctors and nurses must decide who is worth trying to save.
As we cut
back and forth among the speakers, individual anecdotes stand out. An
EMT fights through CPR to bring a patient back to life in his
ambulance, only to have him die again when the hospital has no room
for him. A nurse tries to keep track of a beloved uncle dying in one
hospital while working to save others in another.
battlefield medic starts getting flashbacks. A nurse who had
previously studied acting finds his Method training helps him manage
his emotions. A cancer ward nurse, proud of the way they have always
bent the rules to allow families access to their dying loved ones,
agonises over having to forbid any access to Covid patients.
common thread to the monologues is unwavering dedication and anguish
at not being able to do what they want to do – save and help
As directed by Jessica
Blank, the seven performers - Santano
Fontana, Arjun Gupta, John Ortiz, Alison Pill, Nicholas Pinnock,
Jamey Sheridan and Lorraine Toussaint – create instant and fully
rounded characterisations that never break the illusion or lapse into
At just over an hour, the play produces its powerful emotional effect without having to strain to maintain it too long. In the mode of the best docudrama, The Line gives human faces to a story that we might know only through news reports or statistics
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