ITHACA, N.Y. –– In an age of social distancing and COVID-19 precautions, Ithaca’s Cherry Arts has found a way to keep the essence of theater alive and well.

Since March 2020, the Cherry has produced and presented four post-pandemic performances. One, The Fan was presented at Stewart park, with actors sporting face-masks and lip-synching to their own lines. Three of these shows were live-streamed. 

While it may have been an adjustment for Cherry actors and staff, the company has seemingly gotten the hang of alternative programming –– their production last November, A Day, had international audiences tuning in from the UK, Canada, Japan and Singapore. The production also led to the Cherry’s first review in the NY Times. (They called A Day “transfixing” and its cast “full of charm.”) 

This weekend they are at it again, presenting the English-language premiere of Hotel Good Luck by Mexican playwright Alejandro Ricaño. The solo show follows a 1970s late-night radio DJ Bobby (Seth Soulstein) and his trippy experiences moving through parallel dimensions after he loses someone he loves. A second cast member (Desmond Bratton) acts as the upright bassist/composer of the piece and plays an elusive character himself –– Larry. 

“I am composing a score that is trying to share a poignant message. I believe music has a way of bypassing the conscious mind,” Bratton said while describing his original score. “(My character Larry) is sharing nuggets of truth to lead Bobby to a place of acceptance. Having lived some time in Mexico, the significance of music in Mexican culture spoke to me, and I find Alejandro’s musicality so clear. My favorite piece of music in the show is ‘Lily’s theme’.”

“This play is a painstaking process of unwinding for Bobby”, says Desmond Bratton, who composed several themes of original music for the show.

Amidst the scenes and song that carry this show to the end of an hour-long “trippy” rush, there is a hope from the actors that audiences will be reminded of their own humanity at a time when many are feeling isolated. 

“I hope audiences leave with a good cry,” Soulstein says. “We are all grieving the loss of so many things and so many people. This play feels to me like such a beautiful and simple way to invite us all to experience that loss in a deeper way.” 

Mainly, the cast hopes that audiences can undergo the realization that the things that scare us the most are the things we need to come into intimate contact with. Desmond remarks, “Maybe we need to embrace things in order to continue and surf the wave of a new dimension, like Bobby. And truly surf it, not drown in it.”

Soulstein (left) and Bratton (right) rehearsing Hotel Good Luck at the Cherry Arts space, preparing for their transition into the State Theatre this weekend. Center is Jules Holynski, the production’s camera operator, who will send the performances to the screens of audiences around the country.

While actors and audiences may be missing the physical togetherness of theater, the emotion and truth-telling power it possesses still remains –– especially in this performance. From the first few table reads months ago until now in the middle of a run, the actors mentioned that the show has transformed. It was once the skeleton of a poetic musing, and has transformed into “a hauntingly soulful and moving piece of fiction,” as described by Seth Soulstein who plays Bobby. “I am experiencing Bobby’s journey through the stages of grief and his coming to terms with the reality of human existence and the impermanence of things.”

The grief expressed in the show is somewhat tied to the COVID era as well according to the actors. Desmond Bratton said they have been experiencing “a re-building and restructuring of what is seen in the external world and what is seen as far as one’s internal life.”

The Cherry Arts’ Hotel Good Luck is being co-presented by the (two-time OBIE Award winning) New Ohio Theatre in NYC. This cross-pollination of communities makes the production more than just “pandemic theater.” Like A Day, the show will be filmed from the State Theatre of Ithaca, and livestreamed for five performances in one-shot, one-take. Hotel Good Luck shows the Cherry Arts to be a frontrunner in this virtual neo-theater world. 

Hotel Good Luck will stream live for three more performances only. Tickets can be purchased at thecherry.org. The play is translated by Jacqueline Bixler and directed by Samuel Buggeln.

All performances are at 7:30 p.m. 

Thu, Feb. 18
Fri, Feb. 19
Sat, Feb. 20

(Disclosure: Jahmar Ortiz has worked with the Cherry Arts in the past. The Ithaca Voice is always looking for more arts and entertainment coverage, and freelancers should feel free to submit their own articles to Anna Lamb at alamb@ithacavoice.com.)