The Corona Variations delivers six close calls

Convergence Theatre's series of phone plays brings half a dozen COVID-19 stories to intimate life


THE CORONA VARIATIONS (Convergence Theatre). April 14 to 19. Returning some time in May. Pay-what-you-feel to $30. convergencetheatre.com. Rating: NNN


As the pandemic drags on, theatre artists are continuing to reimagine how what they do can be reconfigured for this new world and speak to audiences. It’s no surprise that two of the most innovative Toronto companies were quick to respond: Outside the March and Convergence Theatre

The Corona Variations is part of Convergence’s two-pronged response to the pandemic. It consists of half a dozen short (no longer than 10 minutes) phone plays from 8 to 11 pm, approximately every half hour. I “experienced” the program last week, and while it was a long night, I found a way to busy myself between segments by doing my laundry (not something you can accomplish at a traditional play). 

Although all six vignettes are set against the backdrop of COVID-19, there’s a range of themes, characters and tones.

In one, you get a close look at how a senior is dealing with isolation in another, two teens navigate a burgeoning friendship and possible relationship. The question of how to date during a pandemic is addressed in a very funny interactive segment, and two other playlets shed light on the strain of quarantine on two couples with complicated relationships. I’ll stay quiet about the sixth show, because of spoilers. 

Two of the segments include audience participation you’re given a script ahead of time, with lines to speak to the actor (although you’re not given their lines). While this is fun, the experience of participating – and having to gauge when you should say your lines – can distract you from the dramatic moment. Much more effective are the segments where you’re essentially eavesdropping on a phone conversation. 

Each playlet has a nice shape to it I particularly liked when a random bit of information placed midway through a scene would change what you know about the characters and situation. And the performers are all strong. (An email after the show links you to cast and crew lists, so if you’re playing try-to-identify-the-actor you can see if you’re right.)

Of course, because this is all happening live, there are occasional technical glitches, such as a bit of static obscuring a line. And I wish there were more variety in terms of style and genre. The telephone seems a marvellous medium for a monologue rant, and yet we don’t get one.

The powerful thing about listening to plays is how voices and sounds can conjure up images of different people and places. That’s a big relief, especially since we’re all stuck in our homes (and heads) these days.

While the show’s initial run is over, Convergence will tweak and remount it in May, with a possible new set of variations in June. And creator Julie Tepperman is also working on a matinee version for younger audiences.

Everything will be shut down for a while, but at least there’s something to look forward to. 

@glennsumi

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