One in three American families has lost someone to the COVID-19 pandemic. The grief of individuals has become hard to process in the face of daily headlines and our collective mourning as a nation. The decision to launch New Normal Rep with the company Artistic Director Jack Canfora’s own Jericho superbly meets this searing moment in our history. This drama interlaced with comedic exchanges features two families whose lives have been impacted by the events of 9/11, another tragedy with deep historic significance. It is an entertaining vehicle that provides an opportunity to explore the search for identify and the need to feel connected to something (or someone) meaningful.
At the opening we meet Beth (Eleanor Handley) whose husband Alec died in the towers. It is clear that her therapy and drug regimen aren’t having the desired affect. To Beth and us, her 67 year old Korean female therapist looks exactly like her 40-something Black husband. (CK Allen’s simultaneous portrayal of two such disparate people is a delightful highlight of this online event). After nearly four years, Beth is finally dating somewhat seriously. Her boyfriend Ethan (Michael Satow) is incredibly understanding of her slow progress towards intimacy. His brother Josh (Jason O’Connell) escaped from tower two and has had what the family views as a “crazy” response to his brush with death. While the Hartmans have always been secular Jews who didn’t think twice about serving lobster at a wedding, Josh has become so devote he can only envision living out his life in Israel. His religious fixation is particularly hard on his wife Jess (a fully present and wonderfully layered Carol Todd) who has seen her own future severely altered with his change of priorities. The threads of all of their stories will be pulled tightly together over a typically taut Thanksgiving dinner in the home of Hartman matriarch Rachel (Jill Eikenberry).
In her direction of this the Zoom-based production, Marsha Mason has mixed elements of stage and screen technique. Occasional tight close-ups and establishing exterior shots are mixed with the now familiar talking heads in individual boxes. The shifts of style make what should be a first-rate theater experience feel studied and distanced. The clean set is designed to make the backgrounds appear contiguous when characters are in the same room. But though they rehearsed together in quarantine, the actors come across as six skilled monologuist rather than a cohesive ensemble.
Written in another decade, Jericho still provides delicious food for thought. As we work through this challenging time, each of us must decide what provides us with meaning and is therefore fundamental to who we are. The play is streaming from NewNormalRep.org. through Sunday, April 4. Tickets can be purchased on the site and cost $25; $10 tickets are available for students and theater professionals. The On-Demand show includes options for HD and closed captioning. Running time is a little over two hours plus a ten minute intermission. The intention of NNR is to continue to build a streaming company that meets this moment of transformation in live theater. Four-play subscriptions are available for $100, and include free access to special programming including live play-readings, special Q&A discussions and virtual happy hours.