Things I Learned In Isolation turns a series of Facebook posts Mary Miller wrote from March-June of 2020 into a solo show. Miller dissects the personal impacts COVID-19 had on her daily life through the guise of a lecture performed for the audience.
The plot of the show is to be expected. The meat of the idea is in the title, after all. With posts about toilet paper shortages and the mundanity of quarantine life, most of Miller's realizations are relatable, if predictable. Miller uses ten Facebook posts to structure the text, adding in discussion on how the post performed and snippets of her day-to-day isolation
reality in between the posts. Miller focuses on the paranoia and uncertainty of the early days of COVID-19 and the resulting loneliness and boredom. Using comedy to look back on our collective experience of quarantine, the script shows we are all more similar than we are different.
The choice to employ comedy is a smart one. Miller uses physical comedy and clever punchlines to discuss a time in our recent history full of fear and sadness. By not getting bogged down in the negative, the text highlights the good things that came out of this international upset. In addition, Miller's comedic timing and over-the-top mime-like physicality bring joy and light to the stage. Her focus on funny realizations made the moments of vulnerability and sincerity stand out. For example, Miller talks about taking care of her elderly mother and the choice to move her to an assisted living facility in the midst of lockdown. The pain when thinking about her quarantined distance from her mother is evident. It can be seen lingering in her eyes.
My favorite moment of sobriety in this lighthearted show comes near the end. As a Georgia resident, Miller points out how some people felt safer than others in her town, state and country during this time. She brings up the killing of Ahmaud Arbery that took place in Georgia in 2020. Miller points out the need to speak out for Black lives, saying it is everyone's job to carry these stories, not just the African-American community. Similar to that when she talks about her mother, Miller's tone totally shifts when talking about this political unrest. She confidently takes a stance and powerfully stands in her important call to action.
While this show delivers what one might expect, I longed for a little extra nuance. I wanted to see the script take this idea to the next level. What does it mean that we all experienced these emotions in 2020 and what can we do with them moving forward? How have we changed because of what happened? Instead, the show felt rather cut and dry. A more significant focus could have been placed on social media's role in the story. Maybe the things she learned could have led to one big cumulative realization.
The material would have felt more engaging if the show fully leaned into the comedy and was almost in the style of a stand-up routine. Perhaps restructuring as a commentary on human behavior in times of crisis told through a humorous lens could have made the show more innovative.
The piece resonated with its audience, resulting in a standing ovation for Miller. Her witty way of seeing the world makes for a fun solo show where we can look back and laugh at the painful past.
"Things I Learned In Isolation"
Written and Performed by Mary Miller
The 15th United Solo Festival
September 25- November 19, 2023
410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)
Carmen! is a trans-multimedia artist specializing in playwriting, acting and crochet. Originally from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, they are currently based in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, returning to their Atlantic Oceanic roots. Their play Taking the Plunge has been performed at the Tank and the Chain off-Broadway and in the 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival slated this June. Carmen has also worked in front-of-house and technical positions for prominent theater organizations including New Dramatists, Portland Playhouse, Emursive and Future Proof. Carmen’s mission is to use play to create meaningful representation by and for underrepresented communities. For more information on Carmen! Follow them on socials @carmenacetosociety or check out www.carmenburbridge.info