by Toby Cooper
A collection of short plays deliciously exploring the theme of loneliness is opening in Orcas Center’s Black Box.
The Lonely Plays, written by Seattle-playwright Heidi Heimarck and directed by local Ellen Graham, opens Wednesday, Feb. 22 and runs through Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. Orcas audiences will share a delightful escapade that meticulously dissects loneliness, strips it bare and reveals rewarding pathways to the joys of human connection.
Tickets are available at https://orcascenter.org/event/the-lonely-plays/.
“We are all trying to connect,” says Graham, who is delighted to be staging this first-ever production of Heimarck’s work. With a multiple-hat-wearing cast of only seven, Graham has stitched together, with words and song, six independent pieces into one thematic evening that is at once quirky, humorous and thoughtful.
By the end, in Heimarck’s words, “we will all have grappled with the desperate need we have for connection, bond, love, friendship, anything that lifts us out from our self-imposed isolation.”
And, Graham adds, live theater is the ultimate antidote to us becoming “lonelier as people.”
Orcas Center’s Artistic Director Jake Perrine selected The Lonely Plays, hired director Graham and, when not playing roles on stage, executes lighting and sound. He finds the play reveling in “shared experiences,” adding that any togetherness becomes a healing moment — the very essence of connection.
“We hope that people will see themselves in the characters,” he said.
If loneliness emerges from the failure of connection, The Lonely Play’s creative team – Graham, Perrine, and Heimarck – lay blame on the dehumanizing effects of life in the digital age.
“Today’s adults are the first generation to fully grow up in the internet age,” says Perrine, reflecting that we find ourselves in a cultural knot where “information is cheap – it’s connection that has become expensive.”
Paradoxically, on the surface of today’s cell phone-driven, social media-saturated culture, connection would seem to be ubiquitous. But Graham sees tiny electronic screens as offering a mere proxy for relationships. She finds that kids today seem “anxious” and laments that social media provides contact, but not connection.
Heimarck’s theater career began at the age of nine, playing Joe in a summer stock company’s production of Joe Egg. She turned professional in Minneapolis, Minnesota, then moved to Seattle where her career in writing, directing, acting and business management flourished in award-winning fashion. She became a champion of theatrical work by women, gaining celebrity as Founding Creative Director for the much-heralded Mae West Fest, a now-discontinued series of festivals featuring plays written and directed by women.
Heimarck says some of the scenes in The Lonely Plays are derived from personal experience. But throughout, her love affair with quirky details — the kind that start small but shapeshift into melodrama — is on full display. She toys with gibberish-speaking oddballs in unexpected places, such as a funeral home. She creates mild audience-shivers with an identifiable “incel” (short for “involuntarily celibate”— a heterosexual male who blames women and society for his own inability to form romantic connections) who exhibits a disquieting tendency to address people in the third person while talking directly to them.
Always hungry for the next chapter, Heimarck muses that artificial intelligence may supply grist for her next artistic experiment. If the internet age has engendered a crisis of connection, what will become of the first full AI generation where classes are taught, restaurant tables served, buses driven by faceless robotic inventions? It’s already happening. It’s the failure of connection on steroids.
The Lonely Plays stars Jake Perrine, Caleb Summers, Colleen Smith Summers, Kelsey Hamilton, Liz Doane, Luann Pamatian and Bryan Benepe. Lights and are sound by Perrine. Deborah Sparks created the props. Tom McDonough is tech wizard, sound designer and sound and lighting operator.