Bob Goepfert: "The Line" - Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things | WAMC

Bob Goepfert: "The Line" - Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

Jul 15, 2020

NEW YORK, NY - Not long ago, on television, every evening you could see a clip of people standing on their balconies in major urban areas throughout the world, clapping, applauding and banging pots to salute health care workers during the height of Covid-19 crisis.

If you ever felt deprived by not being able to honor those brave people, you get a chance by watching the Public Theater’s online production of “The Line.”

This is a documentary-play in which we meet seven individuals who were doing service during the worst part of the Covid-19 crisis in New York City.

Through these individuals we come to understand not only the magnitude of the health care crisis, but the way in which it went from problem to crisis to pandemic with astounding speed.

Not only are the health care workers overwhelmed by the severity of the problem, but it shows how stunned they were at how unprepared the medical community was for such a crisis.

“The Line” takes a three-prong approach to the situation. One is to show the overwhelming, heartbreaking human devastation caused by so many people suffering and dying from the severe illness.

There is also the social aspect of the epidemic. The stories told are extremely personal. This trait is especially effective when the work examines a medical system in which health care is not universal.

And, it shows who suffered disproportionally. The answer has to do with low income and skin color.

This is probably a good place to point out the piece, which runs only 60-minutes, was created by Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen. They are, arguably, best known for their documentary “The Exonerated,” about prisoners on death row who were wrongly convicted. They’ve also created “The Aftermath” and “Coal Country,” two works that show hardships the working man suffers in inequitable societies.

Although there are political aspects to the work, the heart of this story honors people who act responsibly, stand up when needed, and endanger themselves to save the lives of others.

They do heroic things but resent being referred to as heroes. They are what we think of as the average man or woman cooperating in a caring society. They believe in the common good.

There is a lot in “The Line” that makes you think of “The Guys,” a play written by Anne Nelson. That work was about a fire captain who worked with a writer in order to deliver personal, honest and individual eulogies for the many men from his battalion who died in the Twin Towers, on 9/11.

Both plays honor the average individual, the person who lives next door and sacrifices for his neighbor. A difference, and one that is missed, is the fire chief and the female journalist had scenes and dialogue together. Essentially, “The Line” is a series of monologues that are intercut, so as to seem neither stagnant nor preachy.

All the monologues in “The Line” are the words of real people, though the characters the actors portray have fictional names. But the people, their jobs, the diverse ethnic backgrounds, the genders, sexual preferences, religions and skin color do form an effective collage that represents not only an average hospital but represent the entire country.

We hear from an emergency room doctor whose parents are immigrants from India, an oncology nurse from Trinidad, an African-American geriatric nurse-administrator, a male nurse who was a former actor, and two veteran paramedics,

“The Line” is a compelling drama that is emotionally touching. At times, it consciously tries to add drama, where the story suffices in that area. The acting is near-perfect and each performer has a moment that makes you hurt and forces you to think.

Oddly, one of the strangest feelings that linger at the end of the presentation is the impression you get that this is a historical piece. It seems a story about something that happened long ago, even though the crisis is only months old, and still with us.

The story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things is timeless. But “The Line” seems rooted in time and place. That, to me, is as scary as is the story that is told.

“The Line” is streaming through August 4, free of charge on the Public Theater’s You Tube Channel. Try to catch it.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.