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August 4, 2020
Review: Source Material’s ‘In These Uncertain Times’ finds the beauty in quarantine
Screenshot from In These Uncertain Times
Grace Tiso and Chekhov in In These Uncertain Times

A digital collage of social posts, monologues, and Zoom conversations, In These Uncertain Times, devised by Source Material and directed by Samantha Shay, takes a tragicomic look at being an actor amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Equal parts absurd and serious, jarring and lyrical, it tries to walk a fine line between quarantine style humor (off-the-wall, on the edge of insanity) and profound explorations of a changing world. If it doesn't always succeed in staying perfectly poised, its value shines through in poignant moments like when a group of friends tell each other corny jokes over Zoom or an actor walks the beach speaking a monologue from The Three Sisters.

The "setting" is a group of actors navigating a dystopian world where theatre has all but ceased to exist. Via Zoom, they discuss their emotions, expectations, fears, and hopes for the future. Some express their feelings eloquently, others fall completely apart. (Annelise Lawson's hysterical breakdown is so amusing only because it hits so close to home.) Meanwhile, one actor is hacking up a lung, and when asked if he's OK, he responds simply, "no."

Another scene touches on the seclusion of quarantine and how desperately those who are isolated crave any kind of social interaction at all:

"One time I held my breath and stood 5 feet 11 inches away from you in line at the store, but you didn’t notice."

Later, two friends chat about what love will be like in the post-quarantine world. Cast members say the standard "curtain speech" or talk about auditions, their words falling purposefully flat in a setting with no physical stage or in-person performances.

In between these episodic scenes, someone scrolls through Instagram, showing us humorous memes and videos about the dilemma of being an actor in quarantine.

One of the most resonant parts of the piece is a profound monologue on love and grief accompanied by a black screen. Grief and love are twins, we're told, not adversaries. Grief is a way of loving, and love is a recognition of temporariness. In loving—not just people, but places, things, or times in your life—you recognize that everything is temporary. Paradoxically, there's something comforting in that.

Likewise, the final scene, a video of sunlight on the beach accompanied by Olga's final monologue from Chekhov's The Three Sisters, is a lovely moment, reminding us that we too will one day be gone, and our suffering will turn into joy for future generations.

"And the music is so beautiful, so brave, it almost seems like any minute we’ll know why we live, and why we suffer."

In These Uncertain Times seems to end on a note of hope: we may not know why difficult things have to happen and we may not know how to deal with them (meditate? drink? fall apart?), but at the end of the day, like everything else in life, these uncertain times won't last forever. And there's still beauty and joy to be found amid the chaos.

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Written by: Erin Kahn
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