Even as artists cautiously look forward to a post-COVID world, plenty of creatives have found innovative ways to continue their work without gathering in-person. Still, these technological solutions often leave plenty to be desired. Netflix binges will never match the simple joy of crowding in a theater opening weekend; Instagram Live can’t replicate the buzz of in-person concerts; staring at a painting on a computer screen lacks the specialness of appreciating it in a gallery.
Through Yonder Window, a production from the experimental theater group SONDERimmesive, may be tailored to social distancing, but it never feels like COVID-mandated sloppy seconds. Ditching the traditional stage, the show is performed on the upper level of a downtown parking garage. Audiences park and watch from their vehicles, with audio coming from car radios like a drive-in movie. Actors perform around—and interact with—the rows of parked cars in a hybrid of modern dance and pantomime. And in case you’re wondering, appreciative honks replace traditional applause.
The plot is a condensed, modernized and remixed take on Romeo & Juliet. The star-crossed lovers (Nadia Sine and Ed Corvera) are mostly the same, and this version adds more doomed affairs among the reduced group of characters: Nurse Maria (Mara Lefler,) Tybalt (Amber Golden,) Lady Capulet (Catherine Mortimer,) Friar Lawrence (Tyler Fox,) Mercutio (Martina Jorgensen) and Lord Montague (Joseph Wheeler.) This contemporary version of Verona has been decimated by an endless pandemic and generations of quarantine. (Sound familiar?) Over the perfectly paced hour-long runtime, narrative threads unfold simultaneously, and the original play’s events are shuffled, altered or discarded altogether. Maybe not every detail in the script by Graham Brown, Rick Curtiss and Catherine Mortimer is strictly necessary—I’m ready to permanently forget about pandemics, even in fiction—but plenty of the updates were genuinely clever. (I interpreted this Tybalt as an incel-adjacent bro radicalized by Reddit, which makes a weird amount of sense.)
On paper, the production’s artsier details may sound pretentious, but in the actual play is too playful to be self-serious. Car surfaces are used as backstage prop tables, and actors aren’t shy about coming right up to your window. Director and choreographer Brown’s expansive, appealingly loose staging feels improvisational—don’t expect anyone to face forward and give a soliloquy. Because all of the characters are on stage interacting at the same time, Through Yonder Window requires adjusted expectations from audience members. A pre-show message warns that you can’t take in every single detail, which, depending on your point-of-view, could be frustrating or liberating. It didn’t take me long to adapt to the show’s rhythms, and soon the constant motion became one of the performance’s greatest assets.
The novelty of the conceit is what stands out at first—as far as I’m concerned, more Shakespeare should be performed on a sunny spring night with a pickup basketball game nearby—but the production wouldn’t work without the performers. Taking on a unique acting challenge, the ensemble was fully committed to the production’s rule breaking. Because long stretches of the play don’t contain dialogue, the actors are tasked with carrying multiple story arcs almost entirely through movement. (There is an original score composed by Wachira Waigwa-Stone.) Despite, or maybe because of, these restrictions, the cast gave clear, emotionally resonant performances, taking the play’s well-established story in surprising new directions.
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