A heart-piercing tribute to frontline COVID responders in ‘The Line’ from The Public Theater

What life has been like for them as they try to take care of their patients, their families, and ultimately themselves.

With the country hitting new daily highs as COVID-19 surges well beyond hot spots such as New York, New Jersey, and Connecituct, the Public Theater has produced a love letter to the medical community and first responders who put their lives on the line to try to save us.

The Public’s video production is fittingly entitled The Line. The video play is not a ripped-from-the-headlines video procedural. Rather it is a glimpse into the lives of diverse everyday New Yorkers trying to explain to us the viewer, through a Zoom-like conversation, what life has been like for them as they try to take care of their patients, their families, and ultimately themselves.

The Line was developed by creators Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, who interviewed frontline medical workers in New York in spring 2020. Through the interviews, Blank and Jensen “began to see care as a radical response to institutionalized violence and the systems that perpetuate it.”

As the Public’s marketing material suggests, “The Line presents a fundamental redefinition of what it means to protect and serve, examining the fault lines in our system through the words of the brave people who show up every day to care for us all.”

Lorraine Toussaint in the livestreamed world premiere of ‘The Line,’ written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, and directed by Jessica Blank. Photo courtesy of The Public Theater.

Now, please, don’t stop reading—remember that is the way that the multi-Tony Award–winning A Chorus Line was developed: starting with a tape recorder and informal interviews. And The Line is not only for New Yorkers or those of us who once lived in that glorious city.

Let me add a couple of thoughts to what my DCMTA colleague and our NYC reviewer Deb Miller said in her spot-on review.

First, as COVID continues to ravage America with higher positive cases and more deaths, The Line is something for everyone no matter where they may live. COVID is more than a NY-NJ-CT matter even as the DMV has begun steps to un-shutter itself.

Second, The Public’s production of The Line is a love letter to those from the Outer Boroughs of New York City. Those who make the city run. It is, thankfully, not centered on Manhattan or celebrities or boldface names. Rather it praises the un-famous, those who are key to the survival of all of us. Viewers, spoken to as close confidants, come to see a full production about how a diverse group of medical workers respond to the COVID virus as they go about their day-to-day lives on endless shifts with neverending patients to care for—patients they treat with decency and delicacy.

Third, and with great respect to the Public production, I found it free of virtue signaling. The actors and the characters they portray are just human beings trying to do their jobs. They are not out for social media clicks to vouch for their virtues. How refreshing.

John Ortiz and Nicholas Pinnock in the livestreamed world premiere of ‘The Line,’ written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, and directed by Jessica Blank. Photo courtesy of The Public Theater.

The Line is simply heart-piercing. The Line may be New York specific, but other theaters might see The Line as a guide to do the same for their communities. The faces and names and speech patterns will be different in other urban and rural areas, but the stories will be very much alike.

Perhaps The Public can provide guidance to other theaters to do something similar. I would suggest people will listen if they see themselves rather than a city-specific production. Theater colleagues and venues could use The Line as a map and a model—and as COVID surges among younger folk, find a way to make something they too will see and hear.

The Line, if I am permitted to say without a particular religious context, is “come-to-Jesus” theater for anyone with a warm, beating heart ready for a powerful presentation.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without intermission.

The Line  streams through Tuesday, August 4, 11:59 pm, on The Public Theater’s website and YouTube channel.

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