A year ago on March 11, I was packed into the Music Hall at Fair Park with thousands of other audience members experiencing the national tour of the musical Come From Away.
This year on March 11, I was sitting onstage inside the Latino Cultural Center with only my partner beside me, both of us masked, and experiencing a new multidisciplinary creation with a cast of three from Ruben Carrazana and Jeffrey Bryant Moffitt.
The differences were striking, but none more so than the fact that this was the first piece of indoor theater I'd seen in 365 days. Throughout the pandemic, I've attended drive-in shows and parking lot concerts, watched livestreams and previously recorded productions, interacted with Zoom theater, and even popped on a pair of headphones for an audio play.
I didn't review any of these, because it didn't feel appropriate to approach anything that was created during that strange period with a critical eye. Theater companies, producers, writers, and performers have all shown incredible innovation over these uncertain months, and receiving any sort of new entertainment was a gift in and of itself.
But now the DFW theater community is dipping its toe gently and safely into productions that move forward with this new normal, rather than exist in spite of it.
The Cube: An Interactive Experience For The Socially Distanced Era, which premiered in January and has now returned due to popular demand, is such a piece.
Up to three audience members at a time can experience the show, which clocks in at a tight 30 minutes. Everyone is masked, including Carrazana, musician Nigel Newton, and — depending on the performance — dancers Emily McDaniel and Avery-Jai Andrews.
You are seated within a literal fabric cube, onto which stock footage is projected as the "computer" attempts to understand human connection. Evocative lighting by Aaron Johansen heightens the futuristic vibe, then starkly illuminates the performers once they send The Cube flying into the rafters.
There's an anticipatory hum as you sit in a darkened theater, unsure of what might happen next, or when. Even though there isn't a large audience contributing to the buzz, it's comforting to feel that again after so long.
As "the sad lonely man" who created this experience, Carrazana interrupts the computer to deliver a monologue about what theater means to him.
Directing his speech into a video camera that projects onto the theater's back wall, we get to see every hitch and flinch as Carrazana, a self-proclaimed extreme introvert, details how effectively shutting down the arts for a year has hurt him: emotionally, financially, mentally.
Even though we're not face to face for safety reasons, this is the human connection The Cube was striving to replicate.
A soothing original composition is then performed by Newton from the stage's far corner, and a dancer joins to translate feelings of longing. At no point do any of the performers enter the square marked out by floor lights that surrounds the audience.
A final moment of eye contact between art-givers and art-receivers is exchanged before The Cube descends, bittersweetly reminding us that there are still barriers we can't cross yet, but that true connection is waiting on the other side.
The Cube: An Interactive Experience For The Socially Distanced Era runs through March 20 at the Latino Cultural Center.