“Curly Fries” Softens Torments of Pandemic Life—Streaming CAL
Cotter, Reddy, Rivas Pay Tribute to Student Ordeals
by Tanvi Agrawal
“Curly Fries: A Working Title” presents six ‘webisodes’ that explode onto the screen with a dynamic opening sequence. Unforgettable snapshots of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor street graffiti, Black Lives Matter protests, and a photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg blend together in a rousing montage of 2020’s most soul-stirring historic moments.
Patricia Cotter, Geetha Reddy, and Alejandra Maria Rivas respond to this year’s unexpected surge in online learning, dishing out authentic stories of students coping with bewildering “pandemic life.”
The three playwrights establish a compelling homegrown vibe for “Curly Fries,” harvesting candid material from their cast of isolated U.C. Berkeley students.
In six 10-20 minute episodes, Director Domenique Lozano depicts undergrads desperately grasping for “normality.” We root for the students to make romantic connections, despite their being limited to virtual dating, and we witness their gargantuan efforts to endure through painful online classes.
Unlike many Zoom plays which imitate in person conversations, “Curly Fries” webisodes appeal because they use the illusion of live Zoom calls. Students converse naturally through their webcams, joining the group call at times and dropping off at others.
Although some clumsy webisodes are underwhelming, others eye-catchingly stand out for their convincing acting and outside the box topics.
In Episode Two, “Contact Tracing,” contact tracer Sean (standout Tai White) commandingly investigates a potentially infected student named Zeke (humorous Arthur Weiss). Zeke, who has symptoms including fatigue and coughing, casually recalls the people he has accidentally exposed to the virus throughout the day, giving me a shudder.
Sean, the comical yet realistic contact tracer, urgently asks, “Anyone else??” He then nods his head vigorously as Zeke offers even more contact information. “Contact Tracing” wonderfully addresses the cavalier attitude that many young people took towards social distancing. Though the contact tracer struggles to act neutral, I am unreservedly appalled at Zeke’s carelessness.
In the touching Episode Four, “Is Connecting Even Possible Right Now?” a sweet love story involves a gender non-conforming student named Alex (charismatic Sofie Herbeck) and a novice gay woman, Rebecca (believable Stephanie Kazaryan). Titles like “One day later” and ”Two months later” mark their friendship’s slow evolution into a virtual relationship. Alex and Rebecca “connect” over hours spent together on Zoom.
As a genderfluid person, I understand “non-male” Alex, who exudes limitless confidence with a permanent smile. Alex never falters until the moment they confess their feelings for Rebecca. When Rebecca responds that she has “butterflies,” their heartwarming smile returns.
Each webisode is pre-recorded and available on demand. I watched them over a few days, but you can easily binge watch them in under 90 minutes.
Students will definitely enjoy seeing their lives reflected in these short stories. For others, “Curly Fries” can open our eyes to college life during this frightening pandemic.
Available for FREE—a special treat to check out at home during the lockdown.
“Curly Fries: A Working Title” by Patricia Cotter, Geetha Reddy, and Alejandra Maria Rivas, directed by Domenique Lozano, at U.C., Berkeley, Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies. Streaming at: tdps.berkeley.edu
Cast: Brigit Comeau, Sophanit Getahoun, Sofie Herbeck, Stephanie Kazaryan, Eugenia Kusi-Boatemaa, Mikee Loria, Jazara Metcalf, Matthew Nelson, Samiran Patel, Jillian Smith, Arthur Weiss, and Tai White.
Banner photo: Sophanit Getahoun, Eugenia Kusi-Boatemaa, and Jillian Smith in “Episode 5: Mutual Aid.”