Fly Eyes Playwrights Presents “Summer 2020: Eons at the Same Time”; Online Anthology of Monologues Explores Black Lives Matter, COVID-19
“SUMMER 2020: EONS AT THE SAME TIME”: Fly Eyes Playwrights presented an online anthology of documentary-style monologues. Top row, from left: Sandy Kitain, Mimi Schwartz, Donna Clovis. Second row: Tri Duc Tran, Fulton C. Hodges, Aixa Kendrick. Third row: davidbdale, Joey Perillo, June Ballinger. Bottom row: Carol Simmons, Jill Hackett. (Photo montage courtesy of Fly Eyes Playwrights, and the participating actors)
By Donald H. Sanborn III
Fly Eyes Playwrights offered a free online presentation of Summer 2020: Eons at the Same Time on September 10 and 12. The play is an anthology of monologues, derived from interviews in which people react to the convergence of the COVID-19 lockdown and the Black Lives Matter movement.
A press release reveals the project’s origins as an “online documentary theatre course at McCarter Theatre, under the direction of former Artistic Director Emily Mann. After the four-week program ended, the students decided to form Fly Eyes Playwrights and continue their work in documentary theatre, gathering monologues from diverse real-life voices of the moment.”
Summer 2020: Eons at the Same Time is the culmination of the playwrights’ coursework, combined with additional pieces to expand the show into a full-length play. The disparate monologues deftly have been woven together into a thematically unified larger show.
During a post-show discussion following Thursday’s performance, playwright and actor Donna Clovis emphasized that the monologues contain the words spoken by the interviewees. “They’re not our words; we just transcribe them,” Clovis said.
Playwright Rosemary Parrillo added, “You try and get to the essence of what the person said … and find the arc in their story within five minutes.”
Callie Considine is the director, and Alex Kostis is the stage manager. The press release notes that “many of the actors are local artists from programs such as Seniors Onstage through McCarter Theatre, and some are national and international performers.”
An animated curtain rises to reveal a Hubble image of the Milky Way. All of the actors appear to deliver a prologue. “You know, I’m relaxing into the moment,” muses Susan (played by Sandy Kitain). “It feels so important to enter the present moment, as it is changing and evolving. Being as fully here, on as many levels, as I can. Not shutting down, not hiding, from what’s happening. Not projecting answers.”
The monologues were connected by dialogue delivered by Kitain. The text, which was derived from Susan’s dialogue in the prologue and epilogue, was inserted and placed by Considine. These transitions included music by Sophia Burnham-Lemaire, whose score predominantly featured chimes. (A pre-existing composition, “Awake” by Scott Holmes, preceded the show.)
Mimi Schwartz portrayed Mary, in a monologue by Considine. Mary laments the necessity of screens replacing in-person interactions. She reflects on the other world crises that have happened during her lifetime, including the attack on Pearl Harbor as well as the racial unrest of the 1960s.
Remarking that the pandemic has made our lives “very global,” Mary muses, “Even though our corner of the world is what keeps us going, realizing that there’s a bigger picture is comforting right now.”
Clovis delivered her own monologue, derived from an interview with her mother, Annye. Unlike the resigned Mary, Annye — an African American from the “back woods of Alabama” — immediately evinces defiance and urgency. She asserts refusal to attend a Juneteenth celebration, “Because you know what? We ain’t free yet!” She recalls sneaking a drink from a “whites only” water fountain, and discovering that “it was the same stale water.” She adds, “I don’t want all these people breathing virus all over me,” as she leans close to the camera.
“I’m not usually an actress; I’m a writer,” Clovis remarked in the post-show discussion. “So to be able to listen to my mom — to listen to her nuances, to laugh when she laughs — that was really amazing for me.”
Tri Duc Tran played a young refugee named Peter, in a segment by Katherine Clifton. Peter reveals that he comes from a country that is “quite conservative,” and admits anger toward his own government “because my people have been persecuted for so long, I still have relatives who I know are there … who might end up on the wrong side of an argument, and they won’t even get justice.”
Fulton Hodges delivered Parrillo’s monologue, featuring Chef Jesse, who describes cooking as his “anchor of faith” during the quarantine. He is frustrated by the effect of the pandemic on the food industry, and that, because he is African American, it often is assumed that he only knows how to cook “mac and cheese, and fried chicken” — even though he is trained in classical French cooking. (During Thursday’s post-show discussion, the real Chef Jesse was quoted as saying that he wants to cook for all of the actors.)
Aixa Kendrick played Claudine, in a segment by Lorna Haughton. Like Peter, Claudine is an immigrant. She reveals that she was “running away from oppression” in Africa. She likes the United States — “a country that adopted me within a few months” — despite not having spoken any English at the time of her arrival.
However, upon reading history, Claudine concludes that “when they say slavery ended, when they say segregation ended — nothing had ended, actually.” The line inescapably echoes Annye. Initially Claudine declines to march in a Black Lives Matter protest because of COVID-19, but decides to participate so that her children can learn about the issues.
This theme of family continues in a second monologue by Parrillo. It features Ray, a 72-year-old man, portrayed by davidbdale. Ray is devastated that the pandemic prevents him from visiting his 90-year-old mother in “the dementia unit” on “the fourth floor.” He reminisces about the times he did visit her in the past four years, recalling rare but pleasant memories of times that she would “get into activities, like whacking a beach ball.”
Sandor interviewed a married couple: Samantha (played by June Ballinger) and David (Joey Perillo). The playwright wrote a speech for each person, but Considine edited and juxtaposed the two monologues, so that the speakers share a scene.
The resulting segment continues the theme of separation; COVID-19 prevents Samantha from accompanying David, a cancer patient, when he goes for treatment. This scene is well served by the online format; it adds a poignant layer to see the couple next to each other, but in different physical spaces. Like Peter and Claudine, David is an immigrant; his family escaped the Nazis.
Carol Simons plays Michelle, in a second piece by Clovis. “I can’t breathe, and then I suffocate,” Michelle says, eerily echoing George Floyd, whose name is mentioned by several monologists. Michelle relates how, following Floyd’s death, she wrote a letter to her employees — articulating the values of “respect and diversity” supposedly held by her health care company — that was edited by the CEO. “Floyd got erased…no more equality stuff — every word changed to just the generics.”
Hackett delivered her own monologue, portraying Diana. She has a wall clock behind her, which ties into Susan’s opening remarks about the “present moment.” Diana has been isolating for three and a half months, alone. “When I was sick, I got an iWatch to keep me company” she says, echoing Mary’s comments about screens.
Picking up a prescription in Hillsborough, Diana sees protestors decrying George Floyd’s murder. Unable to join them — “I’m high risk” — Diana sticks her hand through her car’s sunroof to show solidarity. “Immediately my whole body felt it: they saw me! We connected.”
To view either performance of Summer 2020: Eons at the Same Time, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/s/summer-2020eons-at-the-same-ti/2974614612864708/?ti=icl.