Marylouise Burke is one of the secret weapons of this collection of five original short plays. The familiar 80-year-old character actress appears in four of them, albeit just a brief cameo in the one that features a podcast interview with Miss Cora Rona, the coronavirus.
“Zoom With A View” was delayed twice (once for editing problems, once for health issues in the cast) and, though it just finally launched Tuesday, is only running through July 25. This is too bad, because, despite the offputting overall title (given the public’s growing antipathy towards the platform), there are enough choice moments in these 90 minutes of digital theater to make it worth a visit. Not least is the chance to watch Burke deliver crackerjack variations on her trademark eccentric characters.
Most of the plays are connected in some way with the pandemic. In the first, and one of the best, “Shots That Pass in the Night,” written and directed by Jon Marans, Burke portrays an elderly woman named Cadmael who is being pushed on a wheelchair by her son Gunner (Jon Krupp) to a pharmacy to get a vaccination shot. They run into Alistair (Alvin Ing), an old man who is being pushed in his wheelchair by his daughter Elena (Pearl Sun.) It is an obvious set-up, but it plays out over its 16 minutes unpredictably (and improbably) and is well-acted and funny.
In “Weight Loss for Women,” written and directed by Holly Hepp-Galván, Burke portrays a woman who can’t say enough about how wonderful a weight-loss program to a new recruit (Amelia Fowler.) It would be unfair to give away the secret to the program’s success. I’ll only say the play makes a kind of profound and persuasive feminist point in a simultaneously hilarious and chilling way.
The longest and shortest of the plays are both about online birthday parties during quarantine. “All My Pretty Chickens” (12 minutes) is the grimmest birthday party ever; written and directed by Joan Vail Thorne, it features 90-year-old Madeleine (Darrie Lawrence) talking to her begrudging adult children on Zoom and flashing back on regretful moments and painful people from her past. “Surprise” (29 minutes), written by Deborah Savadge and directed by Jason Guy, is hardly all fun and cheer either. In it, Dan (Stephen Bradbury) is celebrating the birthday of his wife Catherine (Melissa Hurst) by having arranged for a series of online video greetings by some dozen friends and family – each of them unpleasant or outright hostile towards her. There is an edge of humor to this pile-on, but with diminishing rather than growing returns, since we get the point early on. “Surprise” ends with a surprise that doesn’t make much sense to me. The best moment in the play for me is one of the birthday greeters (portrayed by Burke!) explaining what it’s been like to be stuck in quarantine. “I have a crush on the UPS guy, and I’m better at the crossword puzzle than I used to be.”
Finally, we get “Charmin Miss Rona” (which was originally titled “Zoom with a View”), written by Brian Hargrove, who portrays the Southern good ol’ boy podcast host Charming Charlie Bailey interviewing Miss Rona – the coronavirus. “Call me Cora.”
The playwright scores some points in Miss Rona’s cagey answers to the podcast host’s (and everybody else’s) questions about her
“How did you come into existence?”
“Oh, you know”
“Were you created in a lab?”
“…How about climate change?”
“Oh, I’m a huge fan. Anything that causes and conflict so much disagreement is a win-win in my book…And chaos.”
And there’s an apt zinger when the host asks her when she is leaving, “given the vaccine and all.”
“Vaccine? Hah-hah-hah. Half of y’all think the vaccine contains the sign of the devil or will magically turn you into Democrats…”
Not everything in the play hits its mark; some of it strikes me as borderline tasteless. But its ending, helped along by Joan Vail Thorne’s direction, strikes home. And remember I said Marylouise Burke was one of the secret weapons of “Zoom with a View?” Another is the actress who portrays the virus — Veanne Cox. I’ve adored her since she portrayed the neurotic Amy singing “Getting Married Today” in the 1995 Broadway revival of “Company.” Here she is seductive and charming and then suddenly threatening. As a transposition of the virus’ qualities to human form, that doesn’t seem quite right (How is SARS-CoV-2 in any way charming?) But Veanne Cox does great with threatening.