Poetic Reflections: Identity, or Why I like Irish Rep’s reopening most.

So there is poet and refugee Evgeny Shtorn in front of me reciting his poem “From the Confinement,” a title I find ironic, given that he’s speaking on the beautiful green shore of a calming Irish lake. 

I suppose the real irony is that I’m watching him perform while standing on the lonely midday sidewalk along 22nd Street, down the block from a tattoo parlor with a sign outside “Wear A Mask, Get A Tattoo,” looking at this video in the window of the Irish Repertory Theater. 

This is the Irish Rep reopening. Or, as co-founder Ciarán O’Reilly puts it in the YouTube version (below), “the first public activation of our space since the Covid-19 shutdown began…” 

Shtorn is one of seven poets who recite their poems in “Identity,” the second installment of “Poetic Reflections: Words Upon the Window Pane.” The films are being presented both online and in a continuous loop in the theater’s windows.  It is an odd stab at reopening, and, although the entire program is only 17 minutes long, I feel a bit awkward standing here, with only an occasional passerby ignoring both me and the poets.

But it’s a reopening I can wholeheartedly appreciate, in a way that I cannot with the more publicized recent in-person events, at 33 percent capacity, some by invitation only. 

One reason is the fear that, when physical stages open completely and for real, the theater will abandon what it’s learned – for example, the advantages of streaming. As Esmé Weijun Wang writes today in the New York Times based on her own experiences, It’s more accessible to the disabled and the distant:

“Before 2020, I had never before thought to explore theater beyond one or two plays, considering it a luxury for those more able-bodied or in certain cities. Watching plays on a computer screen isn’t a traditional experience, but it gives access to a type of storytelling for thousands who may never be able to enjoy it otherwise. Our theater houses will open again, and I’ve vowed to take advantage of opportunities to visit them when the time comes. I admit, though, that I will miss the versions that I’ve been able to see at home — versions that will very likely be lost when the world reopens…”

But, no, I say:  Digital theater is part of the world now – or should be.  The Irish Rep, which deserves kudos for jumping into virtual production earlier and more vigorously than most other “legacy” theaters, seems likely to agree with me. The hope is that theater makers will follow the example of Mike Daisey and marry on stage with online.

Meanwhile, Shtorn’s poem articulates another reason why the Irish Rep’s reopening is more to my liking:

…I feel endless anxiety
endless fear
I feel guilty
for being sick
I am not sick
it is just my inflamed imagination
it is outside and inside myself
the virus is so invisible
that you can find it everywhere
it is large
it contains multitudes…

To put it prosaically: Covid-19 is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Starting today, all New Yorkers aged 16 or older are now eligible to get vaccinated, and almost one third of adult New Yorkers have received at least one dose. Encouraging news. At the same time, a headline on March 31st: The New Normal in N.Y.: High Virus Rates and a Steady Stream of Cases

Yesterday, according to the New York Times Covid tracker, there were 3,251 new cases in New York City – a rise of 72 percent over the last two weeks.

I’ll be attending the theater in person. I already have.(here and here and here) But I also hope, as in past pandemics, we keep what we learned from this one.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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