“I’m a playwright, right?,” DC playwright Richard Byrne told me on a phone call. “I miss people getting into my face with my words.” But the pandemic has pushed this prolific writer and his producers into a series of short monologues for YouTube that have captured a world wide following.
The spark for what will be a 5 part series was Day 21, produced by Paula D’Alessandris and London theatre company Mind the Gap, featuring an unforgettable performance by British actor Cathy Conneff as a woman isolated at home with her child and job, whose husband is AWOL.
That experience, he said, showed him how he could take quick jabs at a system which is ignoring how people are affected by the pandemic, and gerry rig the shooting technology to keep everyone safe.
Just released is the fourth in the Plays Pandemical series, Flamingo, was inspired by the true case of Florida data scientist Rebekah Jones, who was terminated from her state job for refusing to alter statistics, and has since been targeted by state law enforcement under dubious circumstances.
“In moments of crisis, governments that wish to erase the scale of the catastrophe – and their culpability in it – will spare no effort to do so. Even if that means the careers and lives of those who speak truth to them,” wrote Byrne in today’s press release and quoted further below.
The play dramatizes Florida’s unpreparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic through the person of Bonnie (Brooklyn actor Rebecca Kush)– whose career trajectory leads her from tax preparation to medical debt collection to a key position at a county health department, where she is in charge of making cuts to public health spending demanded by Florida’s state government.
Bonnie says: “We cut per capita health spending in half. Well, almost. Close enough. And no one important noticed. Except the bosses. They said: ‘good job.’ See, I always made it work. And maybe my being good… freed up their imaginations. About the cuts. Sometimes I thought they suggested a cut just to see if I could get it done.”
As the coronavirus crisis takes hold, Bonnie and her colleagues are unprepared for the immensity of it:
For me, the worst thing was we needed more money. Right away. Cutting money’s easy, but you try finding it. Especially when everyone wants it and there isn’t any.
Next Tuesday, Byrne will be filming the last in the pandemic series before turning his attention back to a multi-character screenplay, written to be shot socially distanced.
by Richard Byrne
Available now for free