Lately we’ve all been learning that pandemic time feels different than normal time. Life seems slower to many people, even though we know time is still running along and, ultimately, running out.
An original, local, one-act play that pokes fun at the strangeness of time will get posted June 1 on YouTube by Magenta Theater. “Mayflies in June” was written in 2011 for a Magenta playwriting workshop by Katt Janson Merilo, who discussed its relevance to current times during a telephone interview last week.
“We all feel kind of stuck and like we’ve been stuck forever,” Merilo said. “But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that long.”
Merilo now lives in Tacoma with her husband, fellow playwright Alex Merilo, who led that writing workshop in 2011 while a busy Magenta actor and volunteer. Challenged by her future husband to craft a one-act play, Katt Merilo recalled her family’s lakeside cabin in Michigan and how inspired she always felt there, she said.
She also remembered mayflies swarming the place.
“There were tons of them every summer, all over the lake. I would see them hanging on the screen door for days,” she said. “I did a little bit of research and discovered just how short their lifespan is. Hanging on the screen could be their entire lifespan.”
Merilo wondered, could they possibly be happy with that?
There are thousands of species of mayflies all over the world, but the shortest-lived adults are record-setters for lifetime brevity. Adult males may survive a day or two; adult females who’ve laid their eggs may only survive another five or 10 minutes. The wisecracking mayfly couple in Merilo’s play seem to know they’ve got half an hour, total, and they strive to observe meaningful milestones like their own 10-minute anniversary.
“Look, old flyer, you’re, what, 23 minutes old now?” mayfly Beth says to mayfly Joe. “Do you really want to spend the last seven minutes of your life annoying me? I for one have better things to do.”
But does she really? She’s stuck to a screen door and can’t move. Good thing she likes that, she insists.
“It’s a nice screen,” she says. “Why spend my life anywhere else? I like it here. No, I love it here.”
Merilo said the script “has a special place in my heart.” That’s because she wrote it at the beginning of her relationship with her husband.
It also became special to Magenta’s artistic director, Jaynie Roberts, who staged “Mayflies in June” during a festival of short plays at a downtown Vancouver restaurant that year, and again at a Magenta fundraiser.
Years later, when the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, Roberts thought of the same script. She remembered how touching it was, she said, and realized its new relevance to today.
“Here we are in 2020, clinging on for dear life and … wondering about our happiness,” Roberts wrote in a press release about the revival of “Mayflies in June.”
The play was performed by its original cast from 2011, Hannah Greenlee and Michael Evan Adent. To maintain social distance, the performance was staged outdoors on the lawn of Hidden House Market, just off Vancouver’s Main Street, on a recent sunny day. Magenta regular Amanda Goff video-recorded and edited for streaming.
Including an introduction by Merilo, the final video product is about 20 minutes long. “Just shy of the actual mayfly lifespan,” Roberts said.
She said Magenta will continue to upload fresh video performances. Next up, in mid-June, will be a dramatic reading, by many different players, of “The Canterville Ghost,” a short story by Oscar Wilde. That’s the second Wilde production Magenta has posted online; earlier this month it was a socially distanced performance of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
“Mayflies in June” may sound a little too sad to stand during this sad time, but Merilo said it’s not.
“It’s about how, when you are feeling trapped in circumstances, it’s people and relationships that can help you come to a better place,” Merilo said. “Even when it seems melancholic, my writing always comes out optimistic and light. It can’t be too serious when you’ve got people pretending to be flies.”