“I read the news today, oh boy… / the news was rather sad…” That day was May 22, 2020.
In a leap into film docudrama creation, Arena Stage’s Artistic Director Molly Smith chronicles a sad day in the DC region. A day dealing with the pandemic as inspired by ten diverse residents trying to cope with the havoc that COVID-19 was doing to their lives and to the community. Smith titled the film May 22, 2020.
It was a day when the DMV area was focused front-and-center on the pandemic. It was a day when the mourning was centered on the victims of COVID-19. The murder of George Floyd had not yet happened.
May 22, 2020 is no streaming ZOOM theatrical event. It is a series of ten monologues that tenderly capture lives of ten DC-area residents who were interviewed by ten DC-area playwrights who then developed 5-minute or so monologues. The episode-like monologues were performed for the camera, not a live audience, by some of the best actors in the DMV as directed by Molly Smith. A unique response by a major theater to the public health crisis that made stages go dark, May 22, 2020 is sui generis cinéma vérité filmmaking.
The episodes include a grandmother who has witnessed death, a man chatting about the daughter he loves to watch dance, an ICU nurse who is COVID-19 positive, a high school senior older than his chronological age, a pharmacist, a police detective, a man who finds nature a way to sooth his soul, a climate-change activist, a beekeeper who lost his best friend, and a young woman who likes to be more than merely an essential worker.
In the hands of Arena Stage, the 55-minute film has a quiet, touching, unguarded feel to it. There are plenty of insights inspired by regular folk who might usually be unseen and unnoticed in the hustle and bustle that is DC. The monologues have an intimacy and immediacy, as if filmed by a hand-held camera.
The distinguished DMV playwrights include Randy Baker, Psalmayene 24, Karen Zacharias, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, John Strand, Annalisa Dias, Audrey Cefaly, Gregory Keng Strasser, Mary Hall Surface, and Aaron Posner.
The May 22, 2020 actors who put their true hearts and authentic souls into the film include Holly Twyford, KenYatta Rogers, Edward Gero, Rachel Zampelli, Dawn Ursula, Nancy Robinette, JaBen Early, Guadalope Campos, Shubhangi Kuchibhotla, and Raksa “Rex” Lim.
The monologues are delivered most often directly into the camera or in profile. The actors are terrific in giving performances that do not feel artificial, just “telling stories” to hold the viewer’s attention and interest. The line deliveries are empathetic.
I would have wished for some anger and emotional rage—some emphatic emotionality, even fury, not just quiet, contained irritation. But that is a mere quibble. I suspect each and every viewer will have their own response to May 22, 2020.
The technical aspects of the film are lovely, as the actors deliver their monologues in outside DC settings. One can feel the world wonderfully surrounding each personal story.
The production enters the heart like The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” from decades ago:
I read the news today, oh boy…
the news was rather sad…
I saw a film today, oh boy…
I just had to look
But how quickly real-life events have interceded to make the film May 22, 2020, now feel almost quaint and sweet in its outlook. Just three days after May 22, 2020, George Floyd was murdered; a murder most foul.
Running Time: 55 minutes.
Arena Stage’s film May 22, 2020 is available to watch for free on YouTube: