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STREAMING THEATER REVIEW Groups of Ten or More People
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2020-07-21

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Playwright: Gaby Labotka and Zach Barr

At: Littlebrain Theatre streaming online. Tickets: Facebook.com/LittlebrainTheatre/ . Runs through: Open run

The forays into digital playmaking, Zoom-grid scenic design and headshot acting engendered by the global stage freeze ( now in its fifth month ) have blurred the line between one-stop live entertainment and leisurely serial viewing ( although the prototype was introduced long ago with the advent of two-part plays running in repertory ). Littlebrain Theatre takes this phenomenon a step further, however.

The story begins in March 2020, when four young Chicago artists decide that since their city is to be closed down for the next—oh, three weeks, maybe—due to the pandemic, they will swear an "accountability pact" to abstain from social media, recreational substances, hookups and similar frivolous distractions. Instead, they will focus on self-improvement through completion of creative projects too long postponed, and in doing so, emerge the better after order is restored.

Their peers are skeptical of these lofty goals, arguing that the source of true art is engagement with, not retreat from, the surrounding universe. ( "Those dumbasses are gonna start a podcast, aren't they?" ) Besides, Saint Patrick's Day is fast approaching, one of them has planned a party not held at a bar, and aren't small groups—consisting of 10 or fewer people—still allowed to whoopee it up together?

Soon everybody is falling in love and emails are getting scrambled in transit, but just when we start to congratulate ourselves on recognizing the plot from Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, the 57-minute first act ends, our video screens proclaim "Intermission" and we are told that Act Two will commence after real-life distancing restrictions are lifted and the long-awaited party scene can be filmed.

Welcome to "Isolation Theatre" all you lonely playgoers looking for a cheerful romcom to relieve the seemingly unending gloom. Co-playwrights/directors Gaby Labotka and Zach Barr have assembled an ethnically diverse non-binary cast ( some of whom confess to never having met in person ) gamely offering up their homes, wardrobes and household lighting as settings for activities featuring plants and pets, facials involving zinc-paste masks and not one, but two, DIY music videos: Ben Kaye's valentine version of the syrupy "Dream A Little Dream of Me" ( "It's like middle school" his sidekick remarks ) and Andrew Rathgeber's acoustical guitar arrangement of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic "I Have Dreamed."

So should prospective audiences regard this currently streaming comedy as a work-in-progress or the first chapter/pilot episode in a larger narrative? Should they wait to binge on acts one and two at the same time, or take a lesson from Shakespeare's youths and gather the roses now in bloom? The musical epilogue may promise to "see you in my window/when it's over/ever after" but in the meantime, where else are lovers chafing under their own solitary ideals going to be reminded that in love, honesty is the best policy, and that the fireplace nook at Lady Gregory's Pub is perfect for future romantic trysts.


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