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Rousuck's Review: Single Carrot's "Is Edward Snowden Single?"

Saraniya Tharmarajah (left) and Meghan Stanton (right) in Single Carrot Theatre's "Is Edward Snowden Single?" (photo credit Chris Hartlove)
Saraniya Tharmarajah (left) and Meghan Stanton (right) in Single Carrot Theatre's "Is Edward Snowden Single?" (photo credit Chris Hartlove)

This is theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck with a special Web-only review of Single Carrot Theatre’s production of "Is Edward Snowden Single?" The show is being performed at the former Windup Space.

"Is Edward Snowden Single?" is the only play I’ve ever seen where the actors tell the theatergoers they can use their cellphones at any time during the performance.

That’s the first indication that this play — written by Washington D.C. native Kate Cortesi— is a bit out of the norm. And it gets more out of the norm as it continues.

The actresses who play the two lead characters also play a slew of other characters. At times they even play each other. This may be the playwright’s way of showing that the protagonists — Mimi and April, roommates and best friends since college — are so close, each knows how the other thinks and acts.

But “Is Edward Snowden Single?” isn’t just a play about friendship, or just a play about two friends putting on a play, which is also what’s going on. Thematically, Mimi and April tell us early on, this is a play about integrity. I’ll let them explain. Here is a bit of dialogue between Meghan Stanton and Saraniya Tharmarajah as Mimi and April:

MIMI (to the audience) How would you define integrity? (pause)
(to April) See? No one knows. Should we tell a story about something nobody knows what it is? (to the audience) It means follow through.

APRIL Totally, totally...except it’s more like the opposite of that. Follow-through helps you achieve a goal and be a success. Integrity means doing the right thing even if it sets you back. (I guess
integrity could mean “following through on being a good person.”)

MIMI (That’s what I meant. Follow-through of the soul.)

APRIL (Cute.) Integrity is what you do when no one’s looking.

MIMI Okay.

APRIL Or what you cop to when (re: the audience) everyone’s looking.


APRIL Integrity is honesty, moral uprightness. I think of it almost like a
reversing spell against vanity, exploitation, corruption, and greed.

MIMI Hot. We are proud to present the story of...

APRIL AND MIMI ...How Mimi learned that integrity...

MIMI ...is important. APRIL ...exists.

There’s a third actor in the play, Parker Matthews, who portrays Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower. Snowden appears on live video that is projected on surfaces around the Windup Space. Initially, his image is projected on a rack of clothing; in a later scene, his face is projected on the face of a large teddy bear.

(Left-right) Saraniya Tharmarajah (in shadows), Parker Matthews (projected) and Meghan Stanton. (photo credit Chris Hartlove)

Mimi appears to have no interest in politics or in Snowden, but watching a 2014 televised interview, she fantasizes that he begins to flirt with her. You can hear the change in actor Parker Matthews’ voice, and her reaction to it.

EDWARD SNOWDEN I was shocked that anyone in the UK government would go so far for so little. If the UK had been pursuing, say—(the magic is back) You, Mimi, then shoot, girl. I’d violate the Geneva Conventions, too.

MIMI I’d violate all the conventions with you.

EDWARD SNOWDEN That could get… unethical.

MIMI I’ve got lots of secret intelligence if you’ve got the skills to— hack it.

Romantic fantasy aside, the parallel that the playwright tries to establish between Mimi and Snowden is way out of proportion. Snowden released classified documents that revealed NSA infringement of privacy rights. He is still living in exile.

Mimi works in a coffee shop and has evidence of repeated thefts from the cash register by an employee. Blowing the whistle will have some consequences for the employee. At most. No human rights violations, no huge, overriding political considerations.

But while comparing Mimi to Snowden may be far-fetched, the play’s innate theatricality is exactly the type of imaginative, wild-and-crazy stuff that Single Carrot does best. Director Alix Fenhagen takes the play’s stage directions and adds her own wild-and-crazy touch.

The script suggests that Snowden be played by a puppet. Instead, Fenhagen and video designer Sean Anthony Preston use live projections — a choice that is not only tougher technically, but also more in keeping with the real Snowden’s motivation.

Snowden acted out of concern over the abuse of individual privacy. Doing double duty as a cameraman, Parker Matthews spends a lot of the play running around the Windup Space with a video camera. At any moment, this cameraman might be filming/spying on anyone on stage — or in the audience.

Under Fenhagen’s direction, Meghan Stanton and Saraniya Tharmarajah handle the play’s multi-casting with a switch of a prop or two, and a change of voice or posture. They frequently play several characters, of varying ages and genders, in a single short scene.

There’s thematic justification for multi-casting. Are any of us who we appear to be? And don’t we all contain aspects of the people close to us?

Despite Single Carrot’s excellent work, “Is Edward Snowden Single?” can be confusing. The stage directions acknowledge that it may be — quote — “barely comprehensible.” It may — quote — “[leave] the audience behind.” The playwright’s okay with that.

Integrity, it seems, isn’t just an issue for Snowden and Mimi; the play’s structural integrity is also at issue. And yet, at Single Carrot, director Fenhagen and company almost make up for this with a strong dose of technical ingenuity and inventive artistry.

Single Carrot Theatre’s production of “Is Edward Snowden Single?” continues at the Windup Space on North Avenue through March 12. The show is also available virtually.

I’m Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck. Thanks for listening!

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J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years.
Rob is a contributing producer for Midday.