“Felt Sad, Posted Frog,” the title of this collection of six new works of online theater by playwrights from six different countries (on three continents), is what one of the characters tells us he did on day 11 of his lockdown alone in Berlin…and day 15, and day 16, and day 26, and apparently many days in-between, because he also tells us that one of his “Facebook friends berated me, said he couldn’t stand seeing any more of these Goddamn frogs. ..”
I sympathized. As striking as I found some specific moments in the show, I started wondering after about an hour whether I was meant to identify quite so closely with these bored, frustrated characters under quarantine.
My biggest problem with “Felt Sad, Posted Frog (and other streams of global quarantine)” involves its basic structure. The Cherry Artists’ Collective, the theater company based in Ithaca, N.Y. that has assembled this “livestream fever dream,” has chosen to split up each play and weave together the individual splinters. So the title play about the man in Berlin, written by Rebekka Kricheldorf and performed by Godfrey L. Simmons Jr., is broken into five segments. In-between those five segments are inserted the three segments of the untitled play by Argentine playwright Santiago Loza about an ex-couple communicating on Zoom; and the three segments of “after” by Salvadoran playwright Jorgelina Cerritos, who often poetically chronicles the days of a woman in lockdown (“Masks, hand sanitizer, cookies, beans, tortilla dough, masks, hand sanitizer, rice, sugar, tuna, and pasta. Hand sanitizer, masks, toilet paper, maxi pads….”)
Only two of the pieces unfold intact. Is it a coincidence that one of them, “ZOOM Birthday Party,” by Romanian playwright Saviana Stanescu, is my favorite? In it, Oana (Helen T. Clark), a student at NYU stuck in her room at International House in New York, celebrates her birthday by having a Zoom session first with her younger brother, Radu (Joseph D’Amore), stuck with his grandparents in Romania, and then with their mother Lia (Elizabeth Mozer), stuck in Italy with the “old geezer” she’s been hired to take care of. Oana reluctantly admits that her boyfriend broke up with her. Radu resents his mother working in a foreign country. Lia tries to make the most of a horrid job that she really needs (“He only asks to touch my breasts from time to time. That’s all. I can take that. 900 euros a month.”) But this is not a sob story. There’s a warmth, humor and playfulness that culminates in the mother insisting they all dance together.
I also enjoyed “brightness of the screen warming our skin” by Serbian playwright Iva Brdar, which is an elaborate, humorous two-character poem that’s a mock self-help manual or instructional film on everything from how to prevent loneliness (“You think/I am not alone/I have ten fingers…./There are 11 of us”)
to how to learn to wait. But I would have preferred not to have been forced to wait for it; Brdar’s play was split into three separate segments.
It’s hard to know why the creative team decided to scramble these works, nor why they have put them together as one show. Yes, they fit together thematically, but that was not enough to keep my attention; indeed, it felt too repetitious. I suspect I would have been able to appreciate all of them more had the works been presented as a series (whether separate streams that you could binge-watch or, say, a different short play each week.) Perhaps this would not have been practical/affordable for the company. But, as is, the enterprise is overlong, and too often hard to absorb. It also started to feel self-indulgent.
There is clearly a widespread urge among theater artists during this crisis to “put on a big show.” It’s an admirable impulse, and has provided some entertaining and uplifting spectaculars, among them “Take Me To The World: Sondheim’s 90th Birthday Concert.”
But it’s questionable whether theater artists can create satisfying, insightful original art about a moment that they – and we – are still living through. In past crises, the theater that I can think of that helped heal was modest (I’m thinking of “The Guys” by Ann Nelson after 9/11. And lets remember that 9/11 had already happened; we were reeling in the aftermath, but not still under attack.) The work of theater during the current crisis that has come the closest to offering insight is, again a modest work, Richard Nelson’s “What Do We Need To Talk About?” If I wasn’t as moved by “Felt Sad Posted Frog (and other streams of global quarantine),” I have to acknowledge that the individual pieces are appropriately specific and grounded, not grand, in their observations. But bringing together six playwrights and 13 performers from three continents for a deliberately scrambled, self-consciously elevated event, which I watched on a screen alone in lockdown, undermined for me whatever the collective was trying to say about isolation.
“Felt Sad Posted Frog (and other streams of global quarantine),”
Remaining streams of Felt Sad Posted Frog
Thursday, May 7 at 7:30 pm ET
Friday, May 8 at 7:30 pm ET
Saturday, May 9 at 2:30 pm ET
Tickets: $15-$35 (depending on what you can afford)