COVID hit our society from all angles. It made us feel scared, helpless, isolated, confused, vulnerable. People lost loved ones; parents had to try to explain what was happening to their young children, when they didn’t know what was happening themselves. Broadway closed down for the first time in my existence, jobs closed, schools closed, families struggled to find ways to survive.
There are so many mixed emotions that we all experienced during that time, so much emotional baggage that we all have been carrying. Suzan-Lori Parks’s play “Plays for the Plague Year,” onstage at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette St.), is a production that shows the humanity that we all share—the hurt, the fright, the confusion. It is a play that has to be experienced. It is a play that allows us to face up to what COVID meant in our lives and how it altered our world. It is also a play that shows the importance of the creative spirit and its ability to thrive no matter how it has to reinvent itself.
In the case of Parks, the reinvention consisted of writing a play a day during COVID and having Zoom events that hundreds of people could attend and watch her work.
This production allows you to heal in a way that no other work has accomplished, to my knowledge. Parks not only wrote this delicate, funny, tragic, stunning work; she also performs it as the Writer, singing and playing guitar.
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Parks is a songwriter and has been for some time, and the proof is definitely in the pudding. She takes the stage at the Joe’s Pub with seven other brilliant, diverse thespians and they, playing multiple characters, capture what we all lived.
The cast consists of Greg Keller, Leland Fowler, Danyel Fulton, Rona Figueroa, Orville Mendoza, Lauren Molina, and Martin Sola. Niegel Smith’s direction is absolutely glorious.
Parks makes sure to pay homage to those who died and those who were murdered. She makes sure to say their names—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. She has tribute moments to John Lewis, James Baldwin, RBG. She tells the stories of educators and doctors who died from COVID and were worried about those they left behind. She addresses people’s frustration as everything was shut down, even barbershops, and how desperately people wanted things to go back to “normal.”
Families and students had to communicate over Zoom. Physical contact was forbidden and, in some people’s lives, COVID still has an effect.
There are so many touching, gripping moments to this production that you will find yourself dealing with emotions that have been dormant for so long that they can only be released through tears.
“Plays for the Plague Year” is a powerful, touching theatrical experience. It truly shows the tremendous creative genius that Parks was able to muster to capture the main events that happened—all the tragedy, police brutality, and murders. Parks has captured our world at a time when we experienced so very much, and has done so with love, compassion, and earnest competency.
You only have until Sunday, April 30, to experience this theatrical gift. Make plans and go—you will be thankful!
For tickets and more info, visit www.publictheater.org.