Stages

Review: Strawdog’s How Do We Navigate Space? Choreographs Chicagoans in Pandemic Living

Yuchi Chiu, Eric Streibig and Gloria Petrelli. Photo by Kamille Dawkins.

Strawdog Theatre’s final entry in their season of resilience celebrates Chicagoans and how they are blundering through and surviving a raging pandemic. How Do We Navigate Space? is a series of 26 short visual essays written by Karissa Murrell Myers and devised and performed by five actors. The director of this beautiful, poetic, sad and absurd piece of filmed theater is Denise Yvette Serna.

The raw material for Myers’ work was a survey sent to a group of Chicagoans in November about their personal experiences navigating physical and digital spaces during Covid. “They responded, and from their answers, How Do We Navigate Space? was born,” Strawdog tells us at the beginning of the film.

How Do We Navigate Space? features Yuchi Chiu, Terri Lynne Hudson, Josie Koznarek, Gloria Petrelli and Erik Strebig. The team has devised a hybrid of film and theater, which runs about 65 minutes. Made up of movement, music, visual art and the words of real Chicagoans, the film tells a non-linear story of our diverse and complex city and how people search for connections.

Yuchi Chiu. Photo by Kamille Dawkins.

Each new essay is introduced by a title graphic, such as “First I Was Scared,” “Lipstick,” Social Pariah,” “Heart,” “Devour,” “I Didn’t Go,” or “Bored.”

In “Self Care,“ Erik Strebig, in red floral wrapper and red glasses, tells us how he’s taking good care of himself. “I haven’t worn pants since March,” he says, on a triple split screen, and “I’m not going  to your Zoom baby shower or your bat mitzvah” and “I do not have to go to some noisy-ass bar.” “I’m not showing my face and no one can say shit about it!”

“Pet Life” is for all the pets we’ve adopted and loved, our dogs (many dogs), cats, and a rabbit. They’re fed, petted, walked, exercised and loved. At the opening, “This is the best year of my dog’s life.” Many of the pets were shelter animals and “the pandemic is the best thing that’s ever happened to them.”

“Hands” features most of the cast performing hand scrubs, over and over again, and demonstrating how you can open, close and access doors, drawers, ovens, boxes and elevators by using your elbows, wrists, feet and nose. We’ve all done it, haven’t we?

Eric Streibig. Photo by Kamille Dawkins.

In “The Middle,” a man appears in three segments in the snow in a park, a cemetery and on a city street. The sign, “Help Each Other,” ties the three segments together.

“Six Feet Apart” choreographs the dances we all do to stay separate. Three actors at an intersection almost succeed at this.

The creative team gets props for music, design and editing. Mah Nu, a devising artist, composed the majority of the underscoring. The production team includes Kamille Dawkins, director of photography and design; Kyle Hamman, video editing; Jos N. Banks, costume design; Heath Hays, sound design; and Becca Levy, movement design.

How Do We Navigate Space? will stream daily from 12 noon to 12 midnight through April 18. Tickets (pay-what-you-can with a suggested price of $15) are currently available here.  Strawdog Theatre will share part of the proceeds from this production with Black Lives Matter Chicago.

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