Zoom Your Own Adventure: A Quarantine Comedy (2020)
Review by the City Paper (9/24/20):
One thing I miss about experiencing the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival in person, besides being around people in general, is the element of surprise. No two performances are exactly the same. But with many of this year’s Fringe shows being pre-recorded, some are in fact, identical. That is not the case with “Zoom Your Own Adventure.”
Writing duo Sara and Matt Moore tackle familiar issues: quarantine, Black Lives Matter protests, and police brutality. But it’s done with a touch of levity without losing its serious core message at the end. The play features 10 actors, each turning their Zoom cameras on or off when their character is “on stage.” A narrator walks us through would-be stage directions that can’t be expressed through words or facial expressions. It’s a bit like an old radio play, but for the 21st century. And it largely works.
The story focuses on two parts of the same family – two moms and their kids, and Cousin Billy and his girlfriend Celeste, as well as their three young kids (not seen on screen) – as they clash over politics, the current COVID crisis, racial tensions, and immigration. While the story leans into some stereotypes, it ends with everyone coming together. The message? We are all human and need to care for one another – and one of the best ways to do that is to vote. The message was made especially poignant, as the night I saw the show, the news of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death had just broken as I logged off.
There are a few delays between lines, but after the first few minutes, the cast really found their rhythm. Joanne Brokaw is on-point as Leslie (one of the moms), and Gregory Ludek is equal parts amusing and infuriating as anti-masker Cousin Billy. Despite only appearing toward the end of the show, Scott Fybush ( a reporter and radio host at WXXI News) delivers a sympathetic and heartfelt performance as a homeless man whom Leslie’s daughter Brooke (Lisa Fybush) has befriended.
About 10 minutes in, the audience is given a choice: do we want to hear from character A or character B? Each has a monologue prepared, which may or may not be heard, depending on how the audience votes. One of our votes ended in a tie, so we got to revote. In between each of the acts, audience members are asked to type random words so the actors can come up with “commercials” on the spot. My suggestion of “prolific boogers” was chosen for the first ad spot – for the Booger Blaster! As a new mom, that actually might come in handy.
The final performance of “Zoom Your Own Adventure” will be on Friday, Sept. 25 at 8:30 p.m., via rochesterfringe.com. Tickets are $5. For ages 5 and over. — Kathy Laluk
Zoom Your Own Adventure was written for the moment and presented live. At certain junctures, audience members would vote to directly influence the narrative and dialogical direction of the play. There were commercials improvised from audience input too, so it was great that most (if not all) of the performers had strong improv chops. Overall, it was a great experience to make some live dramatic event that could influence people in the comfort of their homes. But not like live TV or a radio play– it was something timely, unique and, I daresay, relevant.
LESLIE (Joanne Brokaw)
LINDSAY (Patty Farneth)
BROOKE (Lisa Fybush)
TYLER (Ty Gagnon)
COUSIN BILLY (Gregory Ludek)
CELESTE (Deb White)
KENNY (Scott Fybush)
NARRATOR (Sara Zavacki Moore)
Special thanks to Scott Fybush, Megan Mack, and Randy Gorbman for lending their radio talents.
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF DANIEL PRUDE.
Fringe Gardens (2018)
This is a show written specifically for the 2018 Fringe Festival. Fully staged. Fully whacked.
Jeff Spevak, writing for WXXI:
A cat-atonic family
“Who would have thought there would be so many cats in heaven?” asks Bitsy McNuggers in the opening moments of Fringe Gardens. But she’s not dead, she’s just awakened from a 19-year coma and is still in her cluttered home, which she shares with the cats and her daughter, Chastity McNuggers.
The 1975 documentary Grey Gardens, about a reclusive mother and daughter living in a decrepit mansion in East Hampton, New York, has inspired many, many versions of the tale, including an award-winning 2006 Broadway musical and a 2009 HBO film starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. Sara Moore and Joanne Brokaw – a comedy duo known as A Happy Accident – are similarly intrigued by this true story.
Moore and Brokaw are the hosts of Ask Us Anything?, the booth in the Spiegelgarden where, from 7 to 9 p.m. daily, you can ask them anything. And they’ll answer, no charge. Tuesday in the Avyarium, a small venue in the Village Gate, they took time off from directing other people’s lives to present their take on the cat-atonic recluses of Fringe Gardens. It bears little resemblance to Grey Gardens, with its fleeting pop references to Gilligan’s Island and Lavern & Shirley, nods to 21st-century inventions such as internet dating and Bitsy asking, “Who’s president now, Al Gore?” No, but babies have cell phones, Chastity says.
There is a story here. “You gave up everything to take care of me,” Bitsy says to her sister. But that gets lost in the detritus that accumulates over two decades. “This is all we have left,” Bitsy says, “this life raft of crap.”
Cyrano of the South (2017)
Romance! Fighting! Poetry! Humor! Pathos! Cyrano of the South is the story of a creole iconoclast who falls in love with a white woman in Louisiana during the Civil War. Inspired by the classic story, but different in many ways. This was a full staged reading, complete with live music. It was written with the help of a professional academic grant.
Living History (2013)
(World Premiere, Living History, Roberts Cultural Life Center 2013)
This is a screwball dramedy that takes place in the last days of living history museum. It was a fully-staged production of an original play. This also received scholarly funding, was part of an annual academic cultural enrichment series, and coincided with the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address.
(Living History, original staged reading, Cox Hall 2011)
(Living History, original staged reading, Cox Hall 2011)
This was the original staged reading with audience, performed and workshopped two years prior.
Eclipse (2012, 2017)
World Premiere, Eclipse, MuCCC 2017
Eclipse dramatizes the plight of Sir Arthur Eddington, the British astronomer who proved Einstein’s theory of relativity at a time when Britain was at war with Germany. Because he was a conscientious objector in WWI, he was derided but led a fateful expedition to a remote African island to photograph a solar eclipse and show that light bends!
Lunatic Fringe (2009)
This original comedy gives new meaning to the term “tourist trap.” A special hotel on a private Hawaiian island offers the indigenous islanders to secretly study the strangeness of Western culture. Zaniness ensues when the most outrageous caricature of hyper-consumerism, a narcissistic Hollywood producer-director decides to buy the island. A staged reading with audience was held in May of 2009 at Cox Hall Auditorium.
Camera Obscura (2013)
This is a Hitchcockian suspense in the vein of Vertigo. Questions of fate, sanity, betrayal, love, art, religion, crime, and punishment haunt this tale of an art gallery archivist who struggles to be free of the terrible shadow the past throws over her and her attempt at love after her husband’s murder. A private staged reading was held in 2013.
An intimate character study of four friends who meet every summer in rural Maine as they share increasingly more personal layers of their lives over the years, evolving as married couples and as people.
What happens when an already eccentric and controversial political cartoonist develops dementia at his retirement? How does his state resonate with the global state of affairs? What will happen to his strangely devoted student, son, wife, sister-in-law, and political rival is dramatized in this suspenseful character study. Unproduced as of yet.
Cold Read (2013)
A one act play about a con artist learning from his mentor and practicing on unsuspecting marks. Unproduced as of yet.
In the works, at various stages of development:
Inspired a tiny bit by The Canterbury Tales, this dramedy is thoroughly about music, as a variety of disparate characters stay landlocked at the Sussex home of a former rock star when an Icelandic volcano erupts and paralyzes trans-Atlantic air travel.
Loosely inspired by a real incident, this play set in the near future dramatizes the pressures of an actors’ colony in upstate New York headed by a charismatic and reckless genius who will lead them either to utopia or destruction.
A pitch-black satiric comedy prods the question: what if Dr. Strangelove had a love child with Donald Trump? Lightly inspired by Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, this play shows the absurdity of Trumpistan when the president becomes mentally unfit to fulfill his responsibilities during his reelection campaign and is secretly replaced by an imposter– an illegal immigrant.
This extension of Cold Read dramatizes what happens when a group of con artists assemble to expose an influential and nefarious millionaire faith healer.