While live theater may still be months away, the Hub Theatre Company of Boston recently took to the virtual stage. The company’s new production, a world premier of Trent England’s Solitaire Suite, was live online last weekend, with two more performances scheduled for this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (EST).
Told from the point-of-view of Celeste, a young mother who’s traded in her life in the city for a quieter one in suburbia, Solitaire Suite is billed as a play where “The Twilight Zone meets Zoom!” As Celeste and her husband Pete pick up their son Tiger from a sleepover, the three of them discover a mysterious flying object that changes their lives forever. The twisting, sci-fi story is told almost exclusively through Celeste’s monologues, with the other two characters only having a handful of lines each.
The monologues are well written, and they more than carry the narrative on their own. Playwright Trent England succeeds in making Celeste and her world feel unique and real through words, even if in some places the script starts to sound more like an essay rather than a character’s internal voice. The plot itself meanders between Celeste’s asides and memories, shifting from internal dialogue to external plot events and back again. In one particularly striking moment near the end, Celeste’s stream of consciousness is suddenly interrupted by another character’s question. The background changes, the music shifts, and Celeste, mid-sentence, mid-memory, worriedly rejoins a plot that’s now moving on without her. This is Solitaire Suite at its best, and the questions surrounding Celeste’s agency as a narrator are some of the best that the play asks.
One of the most interesting things about Solitaire Suite though is that it’s hardly a play at all. The work is one step removed from a well-produced audiobook or radio play, and with no set, no blocking, and very few props, there’s not much to actually watch. Pete’s lines are as much a distraction as they are an addition, especially over Zoom, and, while actress Marty Mason does phenomenally as Celeste, even the best stage actresses can only do so much with their upper body alone. The sound and visual design are top notch, but they don’t really make watching the play any different than listening to it.
Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. For a work that will only be watched over the internet, perhaps it’s good that opening another tab doesn’t leave a viewer totally confused or disoriented. If a watcher is distracted—by the internet or pet or roommate—chances are that when they zone back in, Celeste will still be going on about one thing or another. There’s a hypnotism to it, a constant back and forth between mundane and profane, novel and monotonous, theater and radio. Solitaire Suite draws you in, puts you in a trance, and screeches towards its ending with little time for questions. It works well and, at a tight sixty minutes, it’s almost certainly worth it.