A Philly weekend of rad radio and virtual theater with a play by Anna Moench, “Sin Eaters”, and a radio drama by Katie Lu, “Pandemic”.
I shouldn’t say this, but, with nearly a month to go before we ‘”celebrate” or “commemorate” the start of the Covid shutdown of live everything, it’s not difficult to state that we’re getting used to getting our art and entertainment, virtually. Even our Feastivals, our Valentine’s Day dinners and our upcoming James Beard food festivals will be held, in our homes. With food and frills delivered to us without our bellying up to the collective, communal table. This weekend, then, two dynamic theater shows, by Anna Moench and Katie Lu open in Philly. One through Theatre Exile’s always risky, character on the edge-aesthetic, with Sin Eaters. The other, more calm, yet no less dangerous, with Pandemic, the winner in the 2020 Philadelphia Young Playwrights’ Annual Playwriting Festival.
Written by 16-year-old Wissahickon High student playwright Katie Lu, Pandemic, which premieres 8 p.m. Friday, February 19 and streams through February 28, is a cleverly titled radio drama. Not about the currency of coronavirus or Trump’s stupidly racist “Asian flu”. But, rather the virus-like flow of diseased bigotry felt by Asian-Americans of all ages, all eras and all stripes in the United States. Pandemic’s ails aren’t just about, or staged within, a contemporary setting.
This is a university student watching a grandparent taken down by a hate crime in the 21st Century. This is a young mother worried her burgeoning family will be torn apart by deportation before World War 2. This is about the sort of racist screeds and actions taken by American citizens and governments towards immigrants and outsiders. A pain that any person of color could understand. And lives with every day.
The Philadelphia premiere of playwright Anna Moench’s Sin Eaters, just opened and is currently streaming at Theatre Exile through February 28. It might not traffic in every day, present-day bigotry, but is no less au courant in its skewed outlook.
Here, in a world of Instagram influencers and social media mavens, they eat their young. The internet is aflame with imagery of hate crime and hard-core pornography. As well as racist and sexist screed and all level of abuse with nothing but a few cultural content curators to moderate.
Sin Eaters’ Mary is but one of those curators. Mary is played by Philly actor Bi Jean Ngo who lives with the play’s co-star David M. Raine while filming this tense drama in their home. And that fact and farce of the toll her job takes is the stuff that nightmares are made of. Especially in the hands of director Matt Pfeifer. During our recent interview discussing Sin Eaters, he all but wriggled out of his chair when discussing how uncomfortable this brand of Zoom-trained theater makes him. “There can’t help but be a loss of intimacy,” he said. He may not be a fan of the virtual theater aesthetic. Yet, that doesn’t stop the director and his cast from crafting something as tensely, up-close-and-personal, and intimate, and even creepily cinematic as say, Wait Until Dark, or The Silence of the Lambs.