On Sunday afternoon, I participated, silently, in two short plays by Performance for One. Edward Einhorn, the playwright and director, connected me, via Skype, with an actress who presented two oblique monologues. On her end of Skype, impromptu sirens came and went. And then, after dinner, more Candle House — first a conversation with a death row inmate, then a chat with a caseworker about my recent demise. My 3-year-old woke up from a nightmare right when the caseworker wanted to know if I had ever been immobilized with fear, and the conversation may have turned curt. “READ THE ROOM,” I scrawled in my notebook. She also told me that in a past life, I had been a potato.
On Monday, the inmate phoned again. The call ended poorly. For him, anyway. Then The Operator performed a debrief, telling me that I had been very brave, which made me smile in that laughing/crying cat emoji way. A few minutes later, I spoke to The Operator again, although this time he identified himself as Evan Neiden, Candle House’s founder. “Every single call is different,” he said. “You got one of at least a few endings. The focus is always on storytelling as a conduit for connection.”
I thought back to how the caseworker’s call had ended, with a goofy twist that walked back most of the horror. She had read the room.
Me? I learned a lot during that week. How to open handcuffs with a shim, that Romeo is a boob guy. (Don’t ask.) Mostly I learned that I am bad at immersing while semi-panicking about Covid-19 and that I am worse at it while hearing my children cry in the next room of our very small apartment. There has rarely been a time when I wanted to escape into theater so much or have botched so many escapes so badly. Sorry, Irene. Sorry, Captain Jackson. And here’s a handy tip for home immersers: Check your water temperature.
The piece I enjoyed the most — maybe because it was made-to-measure and I am a narcissist; maybe because it was executed so generously — was my Mundane Mystery. It was dopey, sure. And it assumed, because I had made a passing reference to “Iron Man,” a thorough knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Also they never found my watch. But it let me be who I am (a harried writer and home-schooling flop who might be drinking too much right now) and met me where I was, usually at my kitchen counter, slicing apples for the children’s lunch. It asked about my world, listened and then let me slip free of it, at 10-minute intervals.