“Here is Future” presents terrific actors in a half dozen thought-provoking new plays by acclaimed American playwrights, most of them women, all of them BIPOC.* There are also practical reasons to see Theatre for One’s latest collection of “micro-plays”: They’re free and seats are actually available. Also: During this heat wave, they’ve moved into an air conditioned lobby.
I once called Theatre for One “the smallest and most unsettling theater in the world.” It remains the smallest, but I now always seek it out. The brainchild of Tony-winning designer and director Christine Jones, the production pairs one audience member with one performer at a time for individual plays that are rarely longer than ten minutes, and take place in a small booth — one half of which is the stage for the performer; on the other side of the curtain, the other half is the world’s tiniest auditorium for the audience. Jones et al have been carting around various versions of this booth to public places, mostly outdoors, for almost two decades. I first attended Theatre for One when it was at Father Duffy Square in 2011. Last year, for the collection “Here We Are,” Theatre for One went online for the first time – which I found to be among the ten best digital theater of the pandemic year. Those plays were so popular that even one of the playwrights, Lynn Nottage, had trouble booking the other plays, and was put on the waiting list.
With “Here is Future,” running only through August 22, Theatre for One returns to live, in-person theater, although they now have put up a plexiglass divider, which may feel like an homage to the old-time Times Square peep shows, but is an acknowledgement of our strange times. (Audience members are also required to wear masks.) Unlike last year, as of this this writing, the individual slots are not fully booked. They take “walk-ins.” I suspect the sparse attendance is mostly due to the heat, maybe also in-person hesitancy, and the obscure new location as well: Manhattan West (a new development off Ninth Avenue between 31st and 33rd Street.) Count this as an opportunity.
I was thus able to see four of this year’s six plays. The first was “Gravida 4, Para 0” by Stacey Rose directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene (although they only tell you the title, author, director and performer when you leave the booth.) When the “curtain” was raised Joanne Anderson was sitting side by side with me, as if we were both in a waiting room. It eventually emerged that we were both waiting for an abortion. This was the character’s fourth. Although she railed against the demonstrators outside the clinic — “pro life but anti survivor” — one of the great strengths of this play was that it refused to be a polemic. The character was ambivalent; the play was nuanced. And very much of the moment: She confided in me that her boyfriend initially didn’t want a child either, but “the pandemic changed his mind, made him realize how important life is. It made me realize how flimsy life is.”
“The Curse” by Jaclyn Backhaus takes place ten years in the future, where the character played by Angel Desai is convinced that her failure to visit her uncle in 2020 before he died of cancer is the reason why not just her own life has imploded — she lost her job, her husband left her — but the reason why everybody now has to live with wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, and “the constant fear of contracting disease.”
This sense of apocalypse and/or mental illness was also evident in “The Love Vibration,” by Korde Arrington Tuttle. Denise Manning asked me off the bat: “Have you ever lost your mind?” I’ve learned at least to acknowledge questions posed by the characters — that was initially part of what was so unsettling — and shook my head. She explained that she had during the quarantine, when “all my life structures fell away” — people jobs social interaction. But she implied it turned out for the best. “The pandemic took my mind, but gave me a version of love….” In what felt like a comment on the beauty not just of life, but of theater during the pandemic, the character told me: “We’re both really here, together, at the same time, which is nothing short of magical. Breaths. Made of the same stuff. And yet walking different, intersecting paths.”
The fourth and final play I was able to book was Regina Taylor’s “The Transformed Return,” which she also directed. Lizan Mitchell portrays a woman returning to her apartment after a year and six months, marveling at the science experiment her refrigerator had become, including a dozen eggs that had emptied out and turned translucent. The experiences she recounted were not extraordinary — or at least, no more extraordinary than most people’s during the last year and a half — but Mitchell’s performance made it seem so. She talked about her granddaughter born shortly before the pandemic — “The world shut down just as she was opening her eyes. None of this looks out of place to her” — but Grandma seemed wide-eyed enough for the both of them. Her amazement helped me see what’s been going on in a new light. On the way out of the booth, the Theatre for One staffer punched my program card….and handed me a translucent egg.
There are two more plays — “Turtle Turtle and That Which We Keep Telling Ourselves is Over Now” by Lydia R. Diamond, and “The Golda Project” by DeLanna Studi. I have five more days to see them — August 15, and August 18th through 22nd. Walk-ins are welcome, if there are slots available, but advance booking is recommended. (You book a slot; the play you get is at random.)
*Black, indigenous (and) people of color