This show may be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mzsRck_j9w
Washington-Liberty High School
This past year, we have all spent many hours on Zoom, but could you imagine spending an eternity? If not, then you ought to “Come on dooooown” and watch Loudoun Valley High School’s production of Unstable Connections. The script was entirely student-created and embraced all the challenges of performing in a virtual environment. Loudoun Valley students designed an immersive experience that compared Purgatory to a Zoom call. In it, an unlikely band of the recently deceased were forced to undergo a series of moral tests imposed by supernatural beings that determined their fates. By the end of the first thirty minutes, the actors, techies, and editors delivered a truly beautiful performance with a perfect balance of drama and humor.
A striking series of images designed by Lilly Swann, Kenny Bills, and V. Cam Reyes precedes the characters. A bowl of soup, broken beaker, and guitar form an unexpected combination, but they actually show the causes of death for each in the ensemble of souls. While not being named, each soul is unique and relatable. Like the images, they are also strikingly different from each other. Before the feuding frenemies, inquisitive engineer, and Starbucks lover, however, there is #1. Claire Trochlil’s performance evokes both curiosity and sympathy for #1 who is a long-time participant in the Zoom room. She beautifully embodied the strong-minded yet vulnerable de facto leader of the group, who was extremely compelling.
The inclusion of additional characters facilitated deeper understanding of the ensemble members. Chloe Anderson’s jovial Janus and her sassy assistants were extremely charming and their energy filled the cyberspace. Additionally, Declan Wood gave a chilling performance as The Salesman. His charming appearance and commanding tone sent shivers through the screen.
Editing and sound design for this production were very impressive. Transitioning to virtual theatre would be challenging for even the most experienced actors. Nevertheless, these students explored every possibility at their disposal which made for an even more compelling story. Under the laudable tech direction of Des Sequeira, the actors and techies expertly designed the lights, props, and costumes despite the distance. The team of editors (Des Sequeira, James Laybourne, Trevor Nyberg, Dylan Steigerwald, and Angel Vasquez) arranged the footage, designed animations, and superimposed various virtual meeting elements to create a true supernatural Zoom meeting. The Editors also chose to cut between screens of one, two, and three or more boxes to direct the viewer’s attention and build personalized connections with each character. The performance’s sound added another dimension to the story. Sequeira and Vasquez designed a score that was both bouncy at times like the game show theme and spine-tingling at times like the piercing screech. These melodies in combination with Zoom sound effects immerse the audience into the story.
This carefully crafted performance was inspired by the fact that there are things that are uncontrollable but still need to be accepted. During these times of struggle, it’s easy to get upset instead of giving thanks for what we have. Loudoun Valley’s Unstable Connections reminded its audience to recognize and give gratitude for what they can control and to always take the silverware out of the soup before microwaving it.
Washington-Liberty High School
Welcome to Purgatory! Well, Zoom Purgatory, that is.
Unstable Connections, written and performed by Loudoun Valley High School students, follows the story of seven people who find themselves trapped in the in-between following their deaths. As they learn more about themselves, each other, and their strange new circumstances, the audience is taken on a hilarious and emotional journey.
The stand-out production didn't treat this new virtual setting as an obstacle to get over. Instead, the cast and crew embraced the Zoom platform, adding a creative and exciting new element not previously found in the theatre world. In one scene, Janus (Chloe Anderson), Assistant #1 (Dylan Steigerwald), and Assistant #2 (Bridget McNally) delivered playful and energetic performances that are heightened by the crew’s masterful editing. The editing team, lead by Des Sequeira, added colorful graphics and sound effects, including a game show wheel, to this fun game show-style scene. Sequeira also composed original music for the production which helped immerse the audience in this unique theatrical experience.
Claire Trochlil gave a knock-out performance as Number One. From the start, the audience learned that she has been trapped in this Zoom Purgatory a lot longer than everyone else as she waits for her love to crossover. Trochlil’s portrayal of this character was authentic and true to her painful circumstances. She was witty, genuine, and tormented, and the audience couldn't help but feel for her every second of the show.
And it would be impossible to review this production without mentioning the fantastic chemistry between Claire Trochlil and Declan Wood, who played The Salesman. Wood brought unmatched charisma to the role, a performance that was reminiscent of a 1950s car salesman. His commanding stage presence and fantastic comedic timing made him an incredibly watchable and likeable actor. As he gave all seven people a chance to make a wish for something, the audience could tell he and Number One had a complicated history. The two bantered and made jabs at each other back and forth. It was clear that The Salesman struck a chord in Number One when he asked if she wanted tulips, flowers that reminded her of her lover. Trochlil’s acting in this moment was something truly special. Her clear moments of discovery and vulnerability left audience members hanging onto every word.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the show was the fact that it was fully student-written. The full cast and crew devised a script that all of us can relate to as 2020 draws to a close. Sitting in Zoom meetings for hours on end can feel like a Purgatory, making us feel disconnected from the people and things we love. As the seven people struggled to come to terms with their new reality, they found solace in knowing that they weren't alone, just like many of us have this year. This impactful message is something we are all in need of right now, and Loudoun Valley delivered it with grace and charm. So while we may find ourselves staring at the Leave Meeting button daily, Unstable Connections reminded us that we don’t have to fight our battles by ourselves.