Adaptation has been on my mind for most of 2020. As we all have had to isolate from each other and figure out a way to move forward amidst this global pandemic, our ability to adapt has remained a formidable challenge. Although we wear masks, work from home, stay six feet apart, and stream movies on our televisions, the new normal seems anything but that. We miss hugging each other. We miss concerts and crowded movie theaters on an opening Friday. We miss the communal feeling of a live production as the lights go down and you anticipate being transported to another world.
Sensing that hole in our arts-loving hearts, Jon Imperato the Artistic Director of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Cultural Arts Programs, got creative. Not wanting to sit idly by and witness the death of theatre, he brought in award-winning director, Jon Lawrence Rivera, to conceive the only current original professional theatre production in the United States called March.
How did they do it? Instead of occupying one of the center’s theatre spaces, they created their own in the parking garage next door. Audience members drive their cars into the 16 available parking spaces surrounding the stage and tune their radios to a pre-designated station to hear the dialogue. The cast wear face masks and visors and maintain their distance from each other. It’s the first of hopefully many productions Imperato has dubbed “Garage Theatre”.
Set in a dystopian future during a global pandemic, the story follows three people of various gender identities as they hide from a regime which has ordered its citizens to conform to their genders as assigned at birth or die. Sydney, Lavinia and Mary, played by MJ Brown (aka Miss Barbie-Q, who, full disclosure, starred in my film Leave It On The Floor), Amir Levi, and Coretta Monk respectively, each deliver impassioned monologues about their struggles as trans, non-binary, or gender non-comforming individuals. Delivered in what feel like primal screams, the actors often stare you down, challenging your relative safety in your vehicles. While not even remotely subtle, their stories have such specificity, anger and hurt, that the impact feels visceral. It comes as no surprise that the talented cast collaborated with Rivera and dramaturge Nick Salamone to craft this show and bring their very real stories of addiction, employment discrimination and ugly stereotyping to life.
Eventually the police catch up with our trio and threaten them to conform. They wield six foot poles to intimidate them, but it also acts as a creative way to adhere to social distancing. The confrontation leads to some fascinating revelations and even includes a climactic moment of magical realism. At a brisk 45 minutes, the production never wears out its welcome. Despite the facial coverings, the cast does a remarkable job of delineating who is who with their body language and varied performance styles. Monk brings a delicate style, Brown has a fearless urgency, and Levi blazes with righteous anger, even admitting at one point that they’re a difficult person. You feel the impact society has had on this trio. This cast pops and guarantees you cannot look away. It would be easy (and lazy) to say this show is overwritten. The experiences its cast shares merit shouting from the rooftops. The atrocities described and seen in the show do not just happen in a science fiction bubble. It’s happening right now and their pained voices deserve to be heard.
With lighting, an unnerving sound design, and even a musical number, March ingeniously proves you can mount a fully-realized, safe production in this COVID world. It helps that the subject matter and the execution melds perfectly with these times. I wondered to myself if this show would have had the same impact had it been mounted in a more traditional fashion. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, as this wonderfully talented team has found a way to adapt and keep theatre alive.
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic
March concluded its sold-out run at the Los Angeles LGBT Center on November 15th, but stay informed by following their schedule here.
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