By Mark Dreisonstok
Social distancing has forced a measure of self-reflection upon many of us. This makes the online production of Providence Players of Fairfax “The Librarian” especially relevant for this Covid-19-influenced time.
The 20-minute-long production is about a person, known only as “the client,” who is dissatisfied with her life, particularly her career choice of being a professional clown.
So, she asks a mysterious, unnamed librarian for help in rewriting her life. The librarian agrees to help, though she will also charge for this service.
They then embark on a series of vignettes in which client and librarian visit various key points in the Client’s past to see how they should be “revised.”
Elizabeth Keith plays the world-weary client well; she is convincing as a metaphorical “every person” who wishes to feel that her life choices, while not terrible, are less than optimal. Wynter Chatman is also very good as the librarian, who rather paradoxically makes a disinterested character engaging!
The other characters are also well-portrayed, including Ariana Colligan as the client’s clown guru/instructor and Mary Zuzik Andrechik marvelously playing a fellow clown. David Rawlings is also quite good as the client’s father, appearing in a birthday memory.
The show is impressive in a number of ways.
The subject matter is not only topical; it also uses video conferencing for dazzling artistic effect. The actors perform in different locations due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This is often done using a wonderful virtual background of a library, but at times this is displaced by an abstract pattern signifying some sort of virtual reality meta-existence. These computer-generated backdrops, combined with various photos and minimalist costumes, make a virtue out of quarantined necessity. The direction by Julie Janson theater is excellent.
Actress Elizabeth Keith, who plays the client, states that this production “has confirmed that theaters can still connect with the community in creative ways.”
The physical interaction in this virtual production of twenty minutes was one of its greatest creative feats, as the clown and the client operate juggling balls, balloons, and stuffed animals from both of their screens synchronizing.
This is also true of a credit card which is passed from client to librarian towards the close of the performances. Well-done sound effects include a ticking clock in the library setting as well as typing. These electronic, digital sounds also help to establish the characters are in a virtual realm. Director Janson does an outstanding job of combining these unusual elements into a new and timely “social distancing” theatre art form.
Wisely, the show never really explores the question of how the librarian has the seemingly magical time-travel technology or how it works; it is simply taken as a given, allowing audiences to concentrate on the interactions between the characters and their development.
By the end of the show, the client comes out of the world renewed, or at least wiser, as if putting down a library book after a satisfying ending. Though she pays a hefty fee for the experience at the end, she comes to appreciate that the value of one’s life is worth more than money, and that one must value the life that one actually has, rather than one of fantasy.
While the “life do-over” theme has of course been explored in prior artistic works (“It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Peggy Sue Got Married,” and “Groundhog Day,” to name a few), this production explores this theme squarely in the current Covid-19 era.
Providence Players of Fairfax recommends watching this production on a large screen, but if one has a home library, it is also appropriate to view it there to add to the atmosphere.
“The Librarian” may be streamed at youtube.com/watch?v=tN3L9d_Tkvs&feature=youtu.be