By Elizabeth Ann Foster

Plan your Saturday theater night with the Metropolitan Virtual Playhouse series. At 8 pm the curtain is raised. My family in quarantine, dressed up in cocktail dresses and jewels, except my husband, gathered around a large computer monitor for The Pot Boiler by Alice Gerstenberg. This was the 9th offering in the Playhouse series. Anyone wanting engaging conversation, a break to your quarantine monotony, to learn a few things about theater and laugh along the way – here is your virtual ticket.

The Metropolitan Playhouse presents plays representing the unique American theatre experience and heritage. From a wealthy family in Chicago, actor and playwright Gerstenberg’s plays depict the turn of the 20th-century life. Her writing evokes silent motion picture era themes of satire and popular comedy of the day. A potboiler historically is a creative work of dubious literary merit expeditiously contrived to support a writer’s daily expenses. It is a metaphor of boiling the pot or providing a livelihood. Authors creating potboiler screenplays are referred to as hacks, derived from hackney or horse ready for hire. These writers produced quickly to order. The fast-food of stage fodder.

The scene opens with our beloved hack writer hero Sir Sud (David Murray Jaffe) sitting in a virtual empty theater. He is joined by hungry wannabe novelist Harold Wouldby (Jay Romero) who asks Sud to read his manuscript. Invited by Sud, Wouldby leaps into his virtual fun Zoom Tech seat in the theater. Although Zoom was designed for video conferencing, this production used aspects of the platform enhancing the production. Each person speaking has their frame highlighted when the microphone is engaged so the audience viewers readily identify the action and stay focused. Sud dismisses Wouldby as his manuscript is rolled up showing he is not a serious writer. He then cleverly engages him instead in his own impromptu hack production. Short on creativity, Sud seeks inspiration for character names from objects his desk inspiring vamp hero Mrs. Pencil (Jen Reddish) and villain Mr. Inkwell (Tom Staggs).

Jaffe’s interpretation of Sud is hilarious. His line delivery and affectations make the directing and development of the play sheer fun. His handling of some minor technical glitches during the live performance only adds to the overall humor, satire and melodrama. It is amazing to view a play written and performed over a hundred years ago now produced on Zoom during a pandemic. It would not even have been comprehensible a few short months ago. American ingenuity and dramatic artistry.

A big thank you to the Metropolitan Playhouse for their continuous innovation. By creating and performing, virtual playhouse actors remain employed and the public continues to get its fix of theater on a weekly basis. To quote from their webpage “each production seeks out what it is to be American. Who are we? Where do we come from? What is America in the world?” The Pot Boiler reminds us to laugh, have an enjoyable time, and yes, enjoy life and all its foibles.

Playwright Alice Gerstenberg author of The Potboiler circa 1910.

The Pot Boiler – by Alice Gerstenberg, directed by Alex Roe.

With – David Murray Jaffe (Thomas Pinikles Sud the author), Mike Durkin (Mr. Ivory the father) SJ Hannah (Mr. Ruler the hero), Olivia Killingsworth (Miss Ivory the heroine), Jen Reddish (Mrs. Pencil the vamp), Jay Romero (Harold Wouldby the novelist), Tom Staggs (Mr. Inkwell the villain). With special guests for a post-show talk Dorothy Chansky, Ph.D.

Backgrounds by Vincent Gunn; video operated by Rachael Langton. Metropolitan Playhouse
220 E 4th Street New York, New York 10009 Saturday, May 23, 2020 virtual lobby open starting at 7:55. Reading at 8:00 pm. The next live show is Saturday June 1, 2020 at 8 pm. Available on Zoom link posted on their website for live viewing, YouTube and broadcast on pacifica 99.5 No charge to join and watch live Zoom production or to watch on archives. Donations can be made to Artist Relief Fund here to help these actors during this pause. Running time 40 minutes with talkback and Q&A to follow.