SALT LAKE CITY — Online Theatre Festival’s Unstable Connections premiered at the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival on August 1, 2020, at 10:30 PM online. It was billed as a story about a woman named Sophie who was trying to navigate the world of online spreading in the midst of COVID-19, social distancing, and terrible men. Boy, could I relate. Written by Chad Henwood and directed by Amanda DeBry, Sophie, played by Emily Henwood, is doing some online speed dating on what seems to be a fickle and dysfunctional app with dysfunctional people on it. She cycles through several unstable men, from a young man who has his mother whispering hints to him as he talks to women, to a man who insults women the minute he talks to them, to a man who takes one look at a girl and decides whether or not he wants anything to do with them, to a woman who informs everyone she talks to that her husband is in jail so she has time to do whatever while she waits. Add on all the glitches in the system that make Sophie spend too much time with one person while not enough time with another, and I found myself understanding all too well the plight of Sophie.
With the acting talents of Tony Sloan, Sammy Gaylord, Trevor Messenger, Max Kunz, Peter Sham, and Nicole Lopez, each of the characters had a quick moment to shine in this half hour vignette of the challenges of dating during a worldwide pandemic. One of the best conversations was when Sophie had a small moment of bonding where she was able to admit that while some of the challenges might be unique, much of the challenges to dating remain universal, pandemic or not.
I was also impressed with the directorial choices by DeBry, with the videoing obviously being done in many locations, yet while still feeling connected and cohesive. I have seen several attempts in the last few months for artists to put together online productions, and this one has been one of the best for flow and connection of characters across distance. Kudos should be given to technical director Ben Linford for pulling off what must have been a difficult task of developing a socially-distanced yet cohesive show. I will say that the short length and story line left a lot to be said for character development, and I found myself wishing for a follow up on what might happen to Sophie the next day. For the nature of the Fringe Festival and the limitations of the shows entered into the festival, it is not unexpected for such a length, but I do hope that Chad Henwood may consider continuing the story at some point to develop Sophie’s character as she continues to connect with those she comes in contact with through the dating app and as she processes her experiences post COVID-19. It was a fun way to spend a Saturday evening, and I highly encourage other theatre lovers to look at this and other Fringe shows that can be enjoyed online this year. Supporting artists who are trying to make art during this time feels more essential and cathartic than it has in the past.