Playwright Kate Cortesi sent the Jungle Theater a scene from a new play, thinking it might work as a monologue. But the Jungle’s Christina Baldwin loved the scene so much she’s doing the whole dang play.
The comedy is called “Is Edward Snowden Single?” and, although its world premiere comes right after the 2020 election, it owes its origins to the 2016 election, specifically playwrights who were bummed by the results and gathered to drum up new ideas.
“It was our way of banding together and supporting ourselves,” said Cortesi, in between at-home classes with her children in Boston.
“I hadn’t planned it out but the first draft came in a manic race to the end, with these two best friends whose friendship is coming apart although one of them doesn’t realize it,” she said. “It’s about friendship and telling the truth and how the little ways we shortcut the truth to make ourselves look better cost us something. In the case of this friendship, it’s costing them that.”
Cortesi and Baldwin, interim artistic director of the Jungle, met at a theater festival last year. Later, Baldwin reached out to Cortesi to see if she could use a scene from the play they had worked on, “Love.”
“I said, ‘I’m down for “Love” but I have this other play that might be more fun for a 10-minute excerpt,’ ” recalled Cortesi, who sent off “Edward Snowden,” too.
“I moved on with my life, didn’t think about it much and then Christina called and said, ‘I want to do this play. I think we can do it with cameras. It’ll adapt really well from the stage. I have two incredible actors in mind. What do you think?’ ”
That’s also how Baldwin remembers her response to the “zany as hell” piece, which will feature her co-star from the Jungle’s “Little Women,” Isabella Star LaBlanc, and her co-star from “Small Mouth Sounds,” Becca Hart.
“I kept imagining Isabella as April. I’ve been thinking that I wanted to find a comedy project to work with Isabella on. And [the character] Mimi, who has this fantasy world and a moral journey she goes on that takes place with these fantastical illustrations, I thought of Becca. So Becca has created a whole slew of drawings that will be in the DNA of the piece, at times coming to life to counsel her,” Baldwin said.
Cortesi was jazzed enough by Baldwin’s vision to agree to let “Snowden” have its world premiere on Vimeo by way of the Jungle. (Tickets are available for the filmed production Dec 5-20.) Having worked with Baldwin made her eager for more collaboration.
“She’s smart about human emotions and she herself is a very, very good actor so she’s good with actors. I think some directors work with a heavy hand and they really look to put their own stamp on top of the work and that can be a dangerous thing, especially for a new play, which has to find its own life and shimmering voice. Christina is a director who listens very carefully to what the play is and — hold on, my daughter has a question,” Cortesi said, pausing for a teacher/student conference. “And she wants to protect the unique being it is and raise and nurture it with a kind of a mother’s love.”
Yes, we’re in a play
Both actors play multiple roles in the play, using a variety of accents and postures to depict people involved in the lives of April and Mimi. The latter has deluded herself into thinking that whistleblower Snowden, whom Cortesi calls “a heartthrob symbol of moral courage,” loves her. Both April and Mimi are aware they’re in a play, by the way — they’ve decided performing it might work out the kinks in their fractured relationship.
The yes-we’re-in-a-play quality helped Baldwin see how “Snowden” could play online.
“In each scene, they’re different characters and we have to make different choices. Are they seeing each other full-screen or in profile? Are they looking right at the audience?” said Baldwin.
Answering those questions in Zoom rehearsals has upped the giggle quotient in Baldwin’s household.
“I’ll leave my office and my husband says to me, ‘It’s really good to hear you laughing so hard every day.’ It’s a testament to the words Kate put out in the world but also the great creators I have,” said Baldwin. “There’s a lot of joy in the [virtual] room and not only because [assistant director] Joy Dolo is there.”
Those creators in their little Zoom boxes have been busy figuring out the rules of a whole new thing.
“It’s super-exciting. In this time of not being able to do what we normally do the way we normally do it, I’m not looking to find something that supplants that, that replaces it. I’m looking to find what we have now,” said Baldwin, who has acted in virtual theater for the Playwrights’ Center and directed it for Lyric Opera of the North. “It’s been a huge learning experience, learning what is possible, what isn’t possible with this format. But that’s also exactly where we are in this world. I think it’s right and authentic to all of our experiences of saying, ‘OK, what can we do? Let’s work within those parameters.”
Cortesi has made a few adjustments for the shift online, but she’s excited to see how the Jungle deals with challenges, such as a scene involving audience participation and another where one of the actors threatens to walk.
“Theater artists are hurting to work and tell stories and be in rehearsal. So it really meant a lot to me that [Baldwin] wanted to give a play life in a time when very few plays are being brought to life anywhere,” said Cortesi, whose “Love” world premiere at Marin Theatre Company was shut down by the pandemic days after it opened.
Cortesi is pleased to get a story about female friendship out into the world, but her main goal is for audiences to share what she experienced while writing “Is Edward Snowden Single?” after the 2016 election.
“I cracked myself up,” said Cortesi. “One thing I discovered in that dark month was how much I wanted to laugh.”