"Vignettes of a Pestilence": intense drama, yet funny
Luxembourg theatre company Actors Rep has made it into two international festivals: the Minnesota Fringe and the Edinburgh Fringe. In three online performances, they portray six people living through the pandemic.
The first vignette - Apokalypsis: Quarantine - consists of a series of phone calls between a husband and wife who remain nameless. He is stranded in Switzerland during lockdown, in the home of people who themselves are stuck elsewhere. She is at home with their teen children.
The conversation is disjointed, as the two characters speak to each other only every few days. It mirrors the unreal feeling at the start of the pandemic, rife as it is with misinformation, fear, worries, and doom mongering. The characters on their zoom screens appear more dishevelled as the days go by, with unkempt hair that gets longer all the time. The conversation also shows how distant the parents are from their teen children. But despite the recognizable issues, this play feels the weakest of the three.
Amy (played by Lolly Foy) - one of the two Beckwith cousins in the second play - is quite content, even during the prolonged pandemic restrictions. The dead - whom she talks to - hold her company and she shares their gossip with Rhonda, her cousin, played by Christine Probst. It’s clear the two are comfortable in each other's company, yet Rhonda is sceptical. As the slightly adversarial banter continues, it becomes clear that may have more to do with Rhonda's depression and her suicidal thoughts. Unlike Amy, she feels working-from-home and schooling-from-home have invaded her private space - and her sanity.
She makes the call from the utility room, with a washing machine in the background. This is a fast-paced and expressive performance that makes you feel you really know these cousins, and may remind you of some of your own more intense family zoom chats.
In the final play, things have gone back to normal. Two co-workers have dialled into a meeting that no one else attends. As they wait for the others to join, they talk first about work, then more about the pandemic. Jack does not want to get the Covid-19 vaccination. This enrages Rachel, who calls him all sorts of names, but has her own very valid reason for saying that the “whole situation is killing people”. Set in the late spring of 2021, this is probably the most relatable of the three plays, as countless similar discussions are taking place across households, workplaces and social media.
Pre-recorded or live-streamed theatre is not new but it suffers from the fact that we are all so used to doing several zoom calls each day. A good play can feel like just another call. The format requires that emotional intensity of the actors draws you fully in. There is little to rely on in terms of props, lighting or physical movement to add to the dialogue, so inevitably the dialogue and emotions are intense - mixed with a fair bit of humour.
Erik Abbot, the writer of, and male actor in, these plays, captures the mental states as the pandemic progresses: from panic and fear, to anxiety and depression, to acceptance and recovery. I particularly enjoyed Minnesota-based actress Lolly Foy in the last vignette, as the angry co-worker who cannot understand why anyone thinks getting vaccinated equals giving up your freedom.
Watch them in order
You can watch each vignette separately but I’d recommend you watch them in order. They’ll take you on a journey through the pandemic, reminding you of your own emotions and the highs and lows of the past 18 months.
"Vignettes of a Pestilence" is featuring as part of the Minnesota Fringe until 15 August. You can also catch it online as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 30 August. Actors Rep is scheduled to feature the trio as part of the Festival des Égarés in Differdange in late August.