Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Dear 2020! came together from a series of conversations and monologues created by VYT youth performers about the COVID-19 pandemic which were conducted in virtual group sessions over Zoom. Playwright Madolyn Whitmer and student dramatist Petra Milán Danek took the conversations, along with four student leaders who were involved in the devising process (Kylan Chait, Shaylee Flanagan, Gabriella Grasso, and Vivian Paige Nichols), and formed them into a cohesive 90-minute play with similar topics grouped into the 13 scenes with names such as "We Hate Zoom" and "Will This Ever End?"
The piece has a nice trajectory. At first, it shows how excited the kids were that they didn't have to go to school and how most thought the closures would just last a week or two. Also, for kids who were homeschooled, what was once thought of as weird now didn't seem weird at all since everyone was now being homeschooled. The play also skillfully brings up the themes of loneliness that many felt. Some of the youth in the show talk about how the friends they saw every day were now gone and how they felt disconnected by watching the world pass by through a video screen. Many of the kids in the show also said they found out just who their true friends were from the experience.
While there are negative topics discussed, there is also a focus on the positive side, including the time gained with family members from always being at home. A life that was previously hectic was now one with time to reflect on things, learn new hobbies, and find ways to connect with family members. There was also plenty of time for binge watching TV shows. However, as the same routine was repeated day after day, the nagging question of "when will it be normal again?" was always present.
At several points in the show, the cast ask the audience for their answers to questions about their feelings during 2020, hobbies they learned, or TV shows they binge watched that year that tie directly into the scenes that came before on the same topics. This provides a way for the audience to add their thoughts, feelings and reactions to make the entire play into a shared and cathartic experience.
Director Bobb Cooper, the authors, and the cast have created a rich, moving production. Cooper's staging incorporates varied movement and makes great use of the large VYT stage. He also does a wonderful job to ensure the actors, most of whom are speaking of their own experiences, come off natural and not overly dramatic. There are a few funny lines in the show and Cooper and his cast do well with the comic timing to make sure they get big laughs. The entire cast of 15 youth actors are all excellent. They each get several moments to step forward and speak about their personal experiences and feelings, and to show us the various ways 2020 impacted them. The use of photos and video projections adds not only variety to the scenes but also, since many are actual photos from the actors, we can see the family members, activities, and events their monologues speak of.
Dear 2020! is a wonderful, moving and humorous original play that allows these young people to have a voice about what is most likely, so far, the most impactful global event of their lives. It's also a welcome return to live performances for Valley Youth Theatre that shows we should all look back at the events of 2020–not at what we lost, but at what we gained.
Dear 2020 runs through March 15, 2022, at Valley Youth Theatre, 525 North First Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.vyt.com or call 602-253-8188.
Directed by :Bobb Cooper