Theater Review: FEEL THE SPIRIT (Shotgun Players in Berkeley)

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by Tony Frankel on April 3, 2021

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area,Virtual


What I left with from Feel the Spirit, which opened last night virtual-but-live from Shotgun Players, is the central performance of Vero Maynez (below) as Gabriella, a gay pastor at a Christian Church whose parishioners believe themselves to be tolerant but soon shy from liberalism once COVID-19 hits and Gabriella chooses safety over the congregation’s desire to, well, congregate. (Gabriella’s choice is bolstered by the fact that she and her wife Rebecca [lovely Lauren Andrei Garcia] are expecting a child.)

Acting for Zoom has proved challenging for many actors, but Ms. Maynez is at once vulnerable, conflicted, assured, lost, peaceful and, most of all, constantly in discovery. Her reactions are so organic that it makes playwright Noelle Viñas’s naturalistic, slice-of-life dialogue shine. The play’s stasis, however, was not helped by the, well, static plot. Besides her wife, the only other characters are board members Angie (Jean Forsman) and Carleton (Fred Pitts). It would seem that for a play to mirror America’s stubborn science-dispellers (whether theologian or not), we needed more characters to have their own meetings behind the pastor’s back. The conflict needed opening up. To keep the drama from being staid, Ms. Viñas has a three-person Greek Chorus acting as God (the inner voice of the pastor) but it adds no energy or elucidation or exposition so much as offers a platform for beautiful technological art by Leanna Keyes of Transcend Streaming.

Ultimately, this really isn’t theater that speaks to the now, as the press release states, but TV that speaks to the now. The best of the theatrical streaming efforts of the last year (and there were few) were plays, not interactive Zooms. Once Feel the Spirit starts getting immersive and patrons are requested — but not required — to go into a breakout room, it doesn’t work. And when we are put in gallery view on Zoom, playing the part of the parishioners, I now watch an audience try and make sense of the effort with bemused looks. Shotgun is to be applauded, however, for pulling this off with nary a technological glitch, and taking on a subject that belongs on stage now. But I would come back just to see Maynez; she really is a wonder.

Feel the Spirit
Shotgun Players Online
Fri and Sat at 7; Sun at 5
ends on April 11, 2021 (with recorded streams to follow)
for tickets (pay- $8–$40), visit Shotgun (advance reservations required)

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