The coronavirus has affected the relationships with our friends and families in ways we couldn’t have predicted. Though obviously throughout lockdown we could no longer physically be with the people we would normally regularly see, the long days of confinement has forced many of us to reflect on the bonds we have with others, and to reconnect with loved ones we might have been neglecting.
Connection, a new play by Justin Ayran, playing as part of the Thornhill Theatre Space Virtual Fringe uses the backdrop of COVID-19 and the now all too familiar video call to study a Filipino family unit which has drifted apart. The play opens with Peachy, an overworked nurse on a break during her 48 hour shift, talking to her brother Benny, who is estranged from their father Marco. Peachy is close with their father, but not only is she geographically too far away, but the global situation means she even now finds it hard to find time to buy groceries. She tries to persuade a reluctant Benny to reconnect with Marco to take some pressure off, but when Marco joins the call, he and Benny find they have plenty to resolve first.
In just twenty minutes Connections illustrates in impressive depth these three personalities and the frayed attachments between them. Even when the family are joking and exchanging pleasantries, we feel the subtext of Benny’s bitter feelings towards his father. The standout performance in the piece is Ayran himself; it would be all too easy to depict Marco as obnoxious and cruel, but Ayran is still believable as a warm loving father despite the thoughtless choices he has made.
The show makes a lot of the current global situation, but as the story could have worked even out of the context of the pandemic, much of its discussion feels extraneous. The show begins with a discussion about the medical and financial hardships people are facing in the Philippines, but this is immediately discarded for the family turmoil that the play concerns itself with.
It also seems there’s more going on with Peachy than she is letting on, but once she leaves the video call, she is not mentioned for the rest of the show. I would love to know how Peachy mentioning that she might be ill would have played in the dynamic between the three characters – would Marco pay attention despite ignoring Benny’s situation? – but the play never manages to tie the coronavirus into the narrative successfully, and misses an opportunity to add a relevant and interesting dimension to the story. Despite this, the show works well enough as an intimate family drama, filled with good performances and a satisfying emotional arc.