Review: "A Five Mile Radius" Details a Social-Media Blast Zone

 A Five Mile Radius

Written by Tasha Partee

Directed by Jim Furlong and Devin Klos

Presented by Hudson Guild Theatre Company via YouTube

October 23-25, 2020 [UPDATE 10/27/20: additional performances have been added from Friday October 30th at 7:30PM through Sunday November 1st, ending at 5PM]

Top left: Stacey Wright (Edie), below left: Michelle Quintero (Caitlin), below right: Tasha Partee (Roberta). Photo credit: Devin Klos
Hudson Guild, focused on the Chelsea area, provides services in the arts, education, mental health, community building and more to more than 14,000 people of varied sociocultural and socioeconomic backgrounds per year. Its dramatic arm, Hudson Guild Theatre Company (HGTC), founded in 1994, involves community members, particularly the economically disadvantaged, as spectators and participants in live theater, as well as serving "more than 4,000 low income residents of diverse cultural backgrounds and their youth in neighborhood schools." HGTC's latest production brings A Five Mile Radius, a new play by theater artist Tasha Partee, to the virtual stage after plans for its live run fell victim to the pandemic. Partee's dramatization of the complexities of the politics of race and violence in the age of social media aligns with HGTC's own social engagement, and its examination of a restaurant critic caught up in the aftereffects of an unintentional act of gun violence gives audiences plenty to chew on.
Above left: Stacey Wright (Edie), below left: Anthony Roberts II (Dustin), below right: Alex Lugo (Patrick). Photo credit: Devin Klos
The mixture of the sounds of a dial-up modem and app notifications behind an opening quote from Lucretius provide a frame for the play's concerns. At the heart of A Five Mile Radius is Staten Island resident and native Edie Pfeiffer (Stacey Wright, one of a quartet of performers making their HGTC debut), a food critic who has achieved enough of a following to garner interest from The Food Network but who has yet to make the transition into the Web 2.0 world of influencers, memes, and, of course, trolling. Edie is the sort of person who still considers "blog" an insult, a signifier of low-quality amateurism, and insists that her site be called a "publication." Luckily for Edie, her assistant, Caitlin (Michele Quintero), is much more social-media savvy; unluckily, Edie doesn't always take Caitlin's advice, which proves to be especially problematic after Edie decides to go ahead, against that advice, with posting a potentially politically volatile picture of her neighbor (and fan) Lucy's (Danielle Patsakos) son, Brandon (also a fan), to accompany a plea for prayers requested by his mother. Brandon is in need of these prayers because he is struck by a stray bullet on the same night that Lucy and Edie first meet, a bullet perhaps fired in the air during Fourth of July celebrations, likely within the titular five-mile radius of where it landed.

The social media storm in which Edie becomes embroiled (and which spreads to the local news) highlights what have become to many the familiar contours both of such controversies and of the lines of inequalities and ideologies along which American society fractures. One woman, named Yvonne (Kim Gardner), for example, tweets a criticism of Edie for never having spoken out about the many children of color who have been affected by gun violence--Brandon is white--and this is a valid point to raise, but Yvonne also makes it while unaware of why Edie, normally apolitical in her online speech, made this exception. Reactions to the incident and Edie's post also drag parts of her private life into the spotlight, and, with the aid of extended flashbacks, we learn about Edie's marriage, her veteran husband, Dustin (Anthony Roberts II), and Dustin's own relationship to guns.
Top Row: Kim Gardner (Yvonne), Ashley Woolcock (Maria) 
Bottom Row: Manuel Estevez (Jerry), Danielle Patsakos (Lucy), Stacey Wright. Photo credit: Devin Klos
The production adopts a minimalist look, labeling locations and times rather than cycling through a lot of virtual backgrounds, and the choice works well. The ambitious narrative is peppered with some good jokes, and it makes a point of avoiding black-and-white characterization for its onscreen characters. (Lucy, for example, is one of those people who supports the current President without "agreeing" with him—which is still not an excuse—but she also mentions that she'd want to support her son if her were gay.) And while this is a play that would likely gain power from actors being able to share the same physical space, Roberts, for instance, brings undeniable pathos to Dustin's arc, Quintero makes Caitlin a strong presence, and both Patsakos, as transplanted Jersey girl Lucy, and Tasha Partee herself, as local TV reporter Roberta Robbins, have some fun playing off of familiar types.

A Five Mile Radius takes on a world in which the personal is not only political but also publicly posted, delving in detail into all sides of this equation for a reminder that everyone's unique story is also a part of someone else's story.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

Comments

  1. LOVE the script written by Tasha Partee. It is fresh, current and witty. Her future resides in Broadway. The show must go on! Nice work to all involved. Refreshing.

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