You can disinfect only so many doorknobs and watch so much Netflix before it’s time to find something else to do. Why not put on a play in your living room — or just read one while sitting on your couch, imagining the scenes in your head? In order to keep creativity flowing during the pandemic, a handful of American theaters launched Play At Home in March, an online repository of dozens of high-spirited, of-the-moment, five- to 10-minute-long plays that are free to download from playathome
.org and can be performed by anyone, anywhere, with no royalty fees. The playwrights, however, were paid for their work, commissioned by such theaters as Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre in Connecticut; The Public Theater in New York, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.
Two Santa Fe playwrights, Dale Dunn and Suzan Zeder, contributed to Play At Home. Commissioned by Relative Theatrics in Laramie, Wyoming, Dunn’s Smiling in Place is about an unnamed parent and a college student who has returned home from campus for a lockdown. In what is perhaps the play’s most heartbreaking moment of familiarity, parent and child put on masks to be in the same room together, each fearing they are a danger to the other. An unexpected visitor teaches them how to sing in the face of despair.
Zeder’s The New Next-Door Neighbor hinges on a similar theme of confronting fear with joy. Ideal for young actors and audiences, the play was commissioned by The Kennedy Center and is based on a poem by 8-year-old Helen M. Pursley of South Carolina. The new neighbor of the title is loud and obnoxious and has so disrupted the lives of a family of four that they can do nothing but pay attention to the noise and chaos. One day, the mother decides that they should dance wildly to shake off their frustration with the neighbor (who is the novel coronavirus personified, described as roughly similar to a troll or tiny monster).
There is surprising emotional range in The New Next-Door Neighbor. It could be performed in minutes yet move you to tears more than once. It contains lines that will resonate with just about anyone, anywhere in quarantine — many mundane yet justifiable complaints about missing friends, school, the gym, and life in general. It is also a deeply poignant rendering of the unexpectedly wonderful parts of this moment that some people are lucky enough to experience, even as death lurks outside.
And somedays the days are just perfect
Sometimes we somehow forget
Sometimes we actually love this
And we really don’t want it to end.