Review: Soak in "The Bathroom Plays"

 The Bathroom Plays

Presented by Eden Theater Company via Zoom

August 6, 2020



Monogamous Animals

Written by Brennan Vickery

Directed by Alex Pepperman


Pigeons

Written by Amy Berryman

Directed by Amber Calderon


Mary

Written by E. E. Adams

Directed by Jordan Gemaehlich

The third and final installment in Eden Theater Company's three-part series The Room Plays—short plays performed on Zoom that explore some aspect of the isolation that has defined American life under the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (you can read our review of previous installments The Bedroom Plays here and The Living Room Plays here)—locates itself in a space that is already primarily one of solitude: the bathroom. In the works that make up The Bathroom Plays, the titular space becomes, under the pressures of the pandemic, one also of escape, confession, and connection. This trio of plays furnishes a strong finish to the series, continuing to insightfully, entertainingly, and often unpredictably probe its theme. While exploring that theme, The Room Plays series, including The Bathroom Plays, has acted as a benefit, with all donations given to the Equal Justice Initiative, which "is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society." Donations can be made through Eden Theater Company's site or directly to the EIJ.
Cassandra Paras and Niccolo Walsh. Photo courtesy Emily Owens PR
The opening bathroom play, Brennan Vickery's Monogamous Animals, focuses most exclusively of the three on the personal emotional effects of living under the conditions created by COVID-19. In some ways, it might seem paradoxical to need more privacy amidst so much confinement, but Monogamous Animals finds friends Ashley (Cassandra Paras) and Bryan (Niccolo Walsh) retreating to their respective bathrooms as a kind of sanctuary from and within their own homes (as well as a place to video-call one another). Cassandra in particular is having a hard time constantly being with her significant other, although Brian's relationship is not itself trouble-free (a brief exchange about his husband, David, being out at a racial justice protest when the play begins suggests that Brian's politics may not be particularly intersectional). It is Cassandra too who pushes for a more decisive escape than to the bathroom, pandemic be damned. Paras renders Cassandra's frustration palpable, to which Walsh's more restrained, cautious Brian provides a foil, while both actors effectively convey the push and pull of an established friendship between these characters.
LeeAnn Hutchison. Photo courtesy Emily Owens PR
Pigeons, written by Amy Berryman, also focuses on the fallout around a romantic relationship, but it positions that relationship as much more microcosmic. Shelley (LeeAnn Hutchison) is making her first confession in a year via Zoom and from her bathroom, where she has the strongest internet signal. To better replicate the confessional, the priest has his camera turned off, and Robert Gemaehlich acquits himself well in the role with just his voice. We learn that Shelley has lost her husband to the virus, and she talks about feelings of loneliness and anger. We also learn that Shelley is devoted to the conspiracy theory subreddit, and that she was trolled there by a particular user. Belief in conspiracy theories allows for feelings of control and a sense of underlying order (even if the lizard people secretly in charge are nefarious, someone is directing things), which would be especially tempting in a pandemic (the same way that "strong" fascistic leadership can gain additional appeal, sometimes paradoxically for the same people who espouse conspiracies involving the government, in times of seeming disorder or danger). This dynamic aligns with what we learn about Shelley's feelings, and it also raises some interesting questions about the ways in which places like Reddit function like confessionals themselves and how these different types of safe spaces are involved in identity construction. Berryman's play makes some queasily unsettling moves, but it also makes sure to retain empathy and sympathy for Shelley, a balance aided by Hutchinson's nuanced and gripping performance.
Amberlin McCormick. Photo courtesy Emily Owens PR
The final play, E. E. Adams's Mary, extends the engagement with fear(s). Mary (Amberlin McCormick), "abandoned" (though she feels the word is too dramatic) by her roommates, sees something strange on her bathroom mirror while on the phone with her friend and then later sees something frightening in that mirror while getting ready for bed. Terrified, Mary FaceTimes that same friend, and for a while, we see both the original perspective from the position of the mirror and the view from Mary's phone's camera, a clever use of multiple windows on Zoom. After her friend, who thinks that Mary just has trouble being alone, leaves her to herself, Mary begins to talk to the potential ghost, her contrasting double. Through this conversation and comparison of herself and the ghost, Mary elucidates what really scares her, and the play makes some pointed social commentary. McCormick lends power to these points in the contrast between Mary's supernatural terror and her persistent, day-to-day fears, which are accompanied by anger and frustration that both echo but are qualitatively different than those of Ashley and Shelley, and, vitally, not bounded by the pandemic.

In these three short plays, the pandemic forces characters to rethink and reflect, and these works invite the audience to do the same. Sharply written and affectingly performed, The Bathroom Plays concludes The Room Plays series on a high note.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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