Review: "A Day" Will Stick with You Much Longer

 A Day

Written by Gabrielle Chapdelaine

Translated by Josephine George

Directed by Sameul Buggeln and Wendy Dann

Presented by The Cherry Artists' Collective via YouTube Live

November 13-21, 2020

Sylvie Yntema, Karl Gregory, Jahmar Ortiz, Erica Steinhagen. Courtesy Emily Owens PR
Each twenty-four-hour period simultaneously brings a fresh start and another installment of a seemingly endless repetition, one aspect of our lived experience among many poignantly captured by Montreal-based playwright Gabrielle Chapdelaine's A Day. Presented by The Cherry Artists' Collective in a translation by Josephine George, A Day follows two men and two women from one midnight to the next, demonstrating along the way that mundane does not mean unimportant. The actors playing these central characters livestream their performances from partitioned spaces on the stage of Ithaca's State Theater, and the live portion is seamlessly blended with pre-recorded elements, including interactions with people outside the central quartet. The resulting whole is both technically impressive and dramatically effective.

While the concerns of A Day are solidly the stuff of realism—yearning for the past, the breakdown of a relationship, the desire to be recognized for one's work, depression, anxiety, the myriad ways that we distract and comfort ourselves to make the hours pass—the play's approach is decidedly and enjoyably non-realist. A Day is one of those postmodern plays that is easy to absorb in the moment and somewhat trickier to describe at a remove. We are introduced to the characters by peeking in on what each is doing at 12am: Alfonso (Jahmar Ortiz) is watching a laptop in bed, as is Debs (Erica Steinhagen); Harris (Karl Gregory) is out dancing; and Nico (Sylvie Yntema) is responsibly asleep. It isn't too long, though, before a device is introduced in which three of the characters provide a narration for the fourth that seems equivalent to an inner monologue delivered in second-person address. While narrating in this way, the three characters who are speaking seem to be partly but not entirely the same as their "real" selves. However it is best elucidated, this ontological fluidity works beautifully in practice.  
Erica Steinhagen, Jahmar Ortiz, Karl Gregory, Sylvie Yntema. Courtesy Emily Owens PR
That the audience gets quickly used to these narrative mechanics and the hour-by-hour structure lays the groundwork for the play later to surprisingly and impactfully depart from them, upending the routines that the spectators themselves have assumed. One such departure is humorous and comes with an unexpected musical interlude, while the other major instances mark the low and high points for one of the protagonists, testifying to the power both of sadness and of resilience. Ortiz, Steinhagen, Gregory, and Yntema do excellent, heartfelt work in creating sympathetic but complex characters while adroitly navigating the play's shifting subject positions; and on the video side, Darcy Rose stands out whether enduring Alfonso's classic movie obsessions or a poor decision on Nico's part.
Sylvie Yntema, Jahmar Ortiz, Karl Gregory. Courtesy Emily Owens PR
The blending of live performance and recorded elements and the green screen lining the live actors' spaces allow for a profusion of visual creativity. Rather than the Zoom grid that we've all gotten used to, the production shoots the live actors from multiple angles, including from small cameras held by the performers themselves, and cuts them together onscreen in different ways that are not only visually interesting but also serve the story and themes. Each of the four main characters consistently appears against his or her distinct (and perhaps character-appropriate) abstract background (Debs, for example, appears in front of pills and Harris in front of drinks). These backgrounds do not change when the protagonists interact with other characters, who do not appear in full color and whose own backgrounds are processed so as to appear painted. The separation created not only underscores that the play is largely filtered through the inner lives of its protagonists but also suggests people's inner-directedness and the absolute division between the subject and everything outside of it. The production also makes fun use of onscreen text messages in one sequence and footnotes throughout that identify movies referenced but not named by characters (and, adding to the disruption of established expectations, even these get meta at least once). In addition to saying something about how we conceptualize our individual lives through shared (and collectively created) narratives, the recurring comparisons of life experiences to films can itself function metatheatrically, with the play's suggestion that movies are a way to be together without being together not unlike the experience of watching live theater on YouTube.

The final, curtain-call tableau evokes this idea as well, with the now-masked actors reaching towards but not touching one another, an affecting image that is powerfully fitting for both the play and for how we are living right now. It nicely sums up a play that posits that 24 hours is too much and not enough and whose central characters are each alone in a different way, but whose solitude, in the end, does not seem insurmountable. Debs speaks of "those rare moments when you want to exist," and A Day will give you at least 90 minutes worth of them.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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