Live from Refracted and the cell for Memorial Day weekend

With the return of live in-person performances comes two experimental works from innovative artists and companies who’ve been dedicated to keeping theater alive during the pandemic. For this Memorial Day weekend, you can listen, watch, and be immersed in these exciting new productions from Refracted Theatre Company and the cell theatre.

Kyle Starling, Marcus Zebra Smith, and Azi Coppin. Photo by Jeff Buckholz.

I Couldn’t Tell You Why – A live site-specific commission by St. Paul-based award-winning playwright Harrison David Rivers made its world premiere with Refracted on May 22, as part of NYC’s Open Culture program (with nearly 200 street performances throughout the five boroughs), and continues this weekend with shows on Saturday, May 29, and Sunday, May 30, at 5 pm. The audio immersive theatrical experience challenges audiences to consider what is both heard and seen, as they enter the mind of Casey, a young gay Black man torn between his past and future. Can he free himself from his struggles against the wounds left by his father in their history of love and pain, to gain a new level of intimacy with his boyfriend?

Directed by Refracted’s Artistic Director Tova Wolff, the performance creates a relationship between audio-plays and live theater, as a socially-distanced audience on East 47th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues) is given headphones to listen to the audio portion of the story, while actors Kyle Starling, Marcus Zebra Smith, and Azi Coppin present a movement-based version that contextualizes, expands, and complicates the narrative.

For tickets, priced at $20-$40, go online. Audience members must be able to stand for the duration of the event (35-45 minutes), as the action of the play moves around them on the street. For those who aren’t able to attend in person, the audio-play, featuring sound design by Drew Sensue-Weinstein (whose work involves the integration of electro-acoustic sound and music with live performance) and original music by Noah Therrien, will be released in three separate installments on The Swell – Refracted’s audio immersive short-play podcast (available on all major platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify) – on June 7. The audio cast stars Jonathan Burke (The Inheritance; Choir Boy) with Daniel K. Isaac, Ivan Moore, and Stevi Incremona.

Persou. Photo by Catharine Krebs.

Persou – Nancy Manocherian’s the cell is offering a participatory experience by resident artists One Whale’s Tale, in which audiences are transported to another realm – an ancient ceremony worshipping the Goddess Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, at the Temple of Aphrodite in Paphos, Cyprus – while feasting on the sights, sounds, and tastes of live music, bitesize snacks, and a vivid dream-like surrounding. Attendees are free to inhabit the temple as they join fellow pilgrims seeking communion, draw on ancient wisdom to welcome a new spring season of growth and rebirth, and participate in the crafty plot of Demeter, Goddess of Agriculture, to eradicate winter forever.

Accessibility accommodations are available upon request for guests who are unable to walk or to stand for the duration of the performance. The theater has a sweeping front window and a fully retractable back wall that will remain open throughout to allow for air flow, social distancing, and an indoor-outdoor experience. In addition, the cell has been equipped with a new air filtration system; audience size will be limited to 20 people per performance, everyone will be required to wear masks and to provide information for contact tracing, and will be subject to temperature checks at the door.

By popular demand, performances have been extended for an extra week, now through Saturday, June 12, at the cell, 338 W. 23rd Street, NYC. To purchase tickets, click here.


  1. Refracted Theatre Company has announced that two additional performances of I Couldn’t Tell You Why have been added for June 5-6.


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