There Are Other Narratives: “The Walking Plays”

Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Directed by Jess Meyer
Narrator: Katherine Shaver
Sound Design: Elizabeth Cahill
Audio Engineer: Katie O’Connor
Production Manager: Aja M. Jackson

The current plays as of February 14, 2021:
“On Paying Attention”
by David Valdes
Directed by Jess Meyer
Yaya: Sis K
T: Juliet Archer-Walker

“Monster in the Sky” 
by Ginger Lazarus
Directed by Jess Meyer
Yaya: Sis K
Kevin: Hector Toledo

The plays are available now! 
Free to anyone with WiFi and earbuds
Lyric Stage Co on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

Disclaimer: The Walking Plays are a recording that one listens to while walking in Boston. Please know your accessibility needs. If you cannot navigate the winter weather, please enjoy The Walking Plays from home. 

BOSTON — There aren’t many perfect days to take a nice long walk in February. It’s the coldest, shortest month of the year. But last Sunday was Valentine’s Day/Lupercalia/the anniversary of the glorious day Hawai’ian natives righteously smote Captain James Cook. Having great reasons to celebrate, my lovely wife and I took the T to Copley Square to participate in the Lyric Stage Company’s The Walking Plays

2021 will remember February 14 as cloudy with occasional spitting rain. My wife and I will remember this day as the one we walked from Copley Square to Park Street for the first time in 12 months. The experience was bittersweet: we missed walking Boston but Boston was crawling with ineffective mask wearers.   

The Lyric Stage provided a useful tutorial, “How to Listen: A Walking Plays Tutorial,” to participants. My date and I opted to open the play in one browser, the map in another, and then we searched for our ultimate destination in Google Maps just in case. We weren’t afraid of getting lost; we were afraid of missing out. It was theatre FOMO

“The Walking Plays provide a way for audiences to explore both the hidden gems and iconic landmarks of Boston and the joy of theatre beyond the Lyric Stage doors.” said the Lyric Stage press release. This is accurate. We started our journey across the street from the Boston Public Library. Its famous sculptures of draped artists stared back at us as we gazed at them. 

Photo by Queen Kitty.

“On Paying Attention” begins in Copley Square. Yaya (Sis K) and T (Juliet Archer-Walker) are crossing Dartmouth St as they discuss a Black Lives Matter protest. Their views on #BLM differ. We learn more about Yaya and T in 5 minutes than you would a stranger in 20. At under 12 minutes, we don’t have time for exposition. 

I have short legs. Yaya and T must have longer legs because they traveled past the golden mystery dome (pictured) and to the Public Garden while I was passing Trinity Church. If your legs are short like mine, I suggest pausing the recording or rewinding. A participant loses nothing by stopping and starting if their goal is full participation in this hunt for landmarks. 

“Monster in the Sky” by Ginger Lazarus took us out of the city and into the relative peace of the Public Garden. My wife and I coordinated our listening devices at the gates. We hit play as we entered the Public Garden at the corner of Boylston and Arlington. 

The view from the Public Garden entrance. Photo by Queen Kitty.

Lazarus’s “Monster” puts the listener in the company of Yaya (Sis K) and Kevin (Hector Toledo). This play is not quite a prequel to “On Paying Attention.” Yaya is a recurring character but Kevin is new. They are living different truths in “Monster in the Sky” from “On Paying Attention.” It is 2001. 9/11 is a nightmare haunting the North American consciousness. 

Yaya and Kevin are on a school field trip to Boston. They discuss schoolwork, teenage identity, getting into trouble, and the changes 9/11 caused in Boston. Yaya is awakening into who she is. Kevin is a teenage boy about it. 

Lazarus has the participant walking to each of the Public Garden’s most famous spots. Please be wary of your walking! There was a lot of black ice and hard snow on February 14. Some of the walkways mentioned in the play were inaccessible because the city hadn’t cleared them. They did clear others. Use those.  

It is possible to use cleared walkways and still view the sites mentioned in the play. Your route doesn’t have to adhere to the Lyric’s map to be enjoyable. The plays will remain on the Lyric Stage website through Spring 2021. You can try walking the route again when the snow melts.  al

Again, “Monster in the Sky” finished before my date and I got to Park Street. We paused our recordings, took out our earbuds, and took in the Common. We people watched and took deep breathes of the air. Theatre is an explanation for the Walking Plays experience but Boston is the point.  

Both plays ask us to sympathize with characters that we might not be familiar with. Yaya is a young, Black, trans woman who knows her own mind. She retains a healthy fear of others who hate that. T is exceptional because they believe Yaya’s story (even if they don’t fully understand it). It is a privilege to assume one’s whiteness isn’t threatening. Black, trans women are literally dying because of our privilege. 

Valdez challenges the listener to examine their white privilege through T’s rebuttal to Yaya’s experiences.  If my fellow white folx feel threatened by Yaya and T, then they must investigate why. The straight, white, cis, male narrative has held the spotlight for too long. 

Lazarus’ play reminds listeners of the Boston that once was. “Monster in the Sky” causes in me a piercing nostalgia for Filene’s Basement and the Park Street of the early 2000s. Yaya fantasizes about buying whatever she wants. It’s a fantasy that many people used to share. Women of a certain age from all over New England can tell you stories about the gal-on-gal violence of shopping at Filene’s Basement. 

Lots of people outside of Park Street for a cold day. Photo by Queen Kitty.

I remember sifting through heaps of polyester castoffs from the upstairs collections. My twenties were awash in flamingo pink mistakes found in the Basement bins. You could be anyone in its communal changing room. You could become anyone. The Basement had transformative powers. 

As much as the winter season has changed Boston Common, the city remains the same: pudgy squirrels are impossibly cheeky; chatting couples cuddle together for warmth under naked trees; historical statues keep time as citizens run their errands. Boston has its moments of beauty. I was glad that Yaya and Kevin walked too quickly for us to keep pace. 

Boston is not always an easy city to love. It has terrible traffic. Pedestrians don’t walk fast enough. City officials treat snowfall like an anomaly every damn year. The T is a cash-sucking mess. Our theatre has no audience infrastructure. All of the students. But it’s our city. It is beautiful even if it isn’t safe (with our without a pandemic). The Walking Plays remind us that Boston is our home: our imperfect, crowded, arrogant, entitled, gorgeous, supremely walkable home. 

There are four more plays in the series: “Kill the Dogs, Knock Them Over!” by Liana Asim; “In Any Face” by Miranda ADEkoje; “Living Water” by Melinda Lopez; “Monstrat Viam” by Pat Gabridge. Lyric Stage Co. will announce their release this Spring. 

I shouldn’t have to say it but I will: don’t listen to these plays out loud. Use earbuds, headphones, etc. You are not special. Bring the right gear or stay home.

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