Imagine two tight close-ups, ripe with tension and weariness, fraught with frustration and a hint of the Ionesco-like absurdity, and hypnotic in its rhythmic speech patterns and shadowy glow: welcome to “Code Blue,” 13-minutes of taut angular drama from the Wilma Theater. Shot entirely on iPhones with HotHouse Company actors Ross Beschler and Anthony Martinez-Briggs while C-19 quarantined, and co-written by Martinez-Briggs with its director Blanka Zizka, the story pits an overworked frontline hospital employee with a rightwing pandemic denier guided by the feel of stark, dusky light.
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“We’re working under conditions of the Covid-19, of isolation,” said Zizka, the Wilma’s Artistic Director and co-founder of how “Code Blue” got started during her theater’s closure and having her HotHouse Company separated by coronavirus stay at home orders. “I was wondering how we could keep being creative without being in the theater, without being able to experiment.”
What she found in “Code Blue” was something au courant and socially aware – isolated, of the moment – that allowed her and her actor-writers the same experimental theatricality that would occur being up-close-and-personal on the Wilma’s stage, but was far away from much of the altogether too typical Zoom aesthetic that already feels stale after 3 months of sequestered socialization. “I rejected Zoom from the very beginning. it lacks the theatricality and humanity that I wanted to have in the piece. Zoom is so overused, I cannot watch another one. I have been through enough Zoom meetings to know that.”
Starting with Zizka’s handful of Trump rants (think a William S. Burroughs’ cut-ups as spoken by Beschler) and Martinez-Briggs’ blue-collar ruminations on love in the time of pandemic, “Code Blue” – and filmed as close to the actors faces as humanly possible (sometimes just Beschler’s teeth and lips, with video and sound designed by Taj Rauch) – was not unfamiliar to Blanka.
“I know what this language is, easily, as it was used in my home country, Czechoslovakia; it is a language that is used to placate people and spread lies… In writing this, however, current events and the cultural climate moved faster than our script did so we had to constantly change things, add and edit. The script was in motion until the very last minute.” With that, “Code Blue” finds one voice banal and coarse, with the other poetic and brittle, with an absurd magical reality.