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Wilma Theater puts itself out on the cutting edge of COVID-19 art with a 13-minute iPhone drama

Blanka Zizka directs Wilma HotHouse Company members Anthony Martinez-Briggs and Ross Beschler in a mesmerizing back-and-forth.

Anthony Martinez-Briggs and Ross Beschler, the two actors in Code Blue from the Wilma Theater.
Anthony Martinez-Briggs and Ross Beschler, the two actors in Code Blue from the Wilma Theater.Read moreKristin Finger

It’s very much under control, the President said. It’s very much under control. That’s what he said. It was one person from China. From Wuhan, China. We have it totally under control.

There’s something mesmerizing about the rhythmic speech in Code Blue, the 13-minute piece of theater released Friday by the Wilma Theater. Shot entirely on iPhone in the actors’ homes during the COVID-19 sequestration, the short drama intercuts the spare, fluid introspection of a frontline hospital worker with the staccato of a Trump supporter railing about the unfair way in which the president’s pandemic response has been portrayed.

The piece was conceived for — and exists only — online, and is available for viewing free on the Wilma’s website.

I was in a dark place, sweeping. Some room nurses were cleaning another dead body. The darkest part: that we are still able to find casual conversations in the midst of cadavers.

Code Blue, directed by Wilma artistic director Blanka Zizka, features Wilma HotHouse Company members Anthony Martinez-Briggs and Ross Beschler. The text, by Martinez-Briggs and Zizka, takes its cue from absurdists like Beckett.

“I started with just a monologue, with listening to Donald Trump and him really making me mad at the briefings,” says Zizka, whose Wilma had its season cut short by the pandemic. She considered how “language is used in my home country, Czechoslovakia, that language is used to placate people and spread lies, and that is the use of language I grew up with, that Trump was using, and it made me mad.”

Yes, people are dying. That’s horrible. Truly sad. Tremendously sad. But why are they blaming him? Why? The President couldn’t have predicted it.

Zizka says that with the Wilma dark, she turned to video. “I was thinking, ‘Alright, we can’t be in the room together.’ I had never done a video before in my life, so it was an experiment.”

She hopes the Wilma can do more video work. “I want to keep it going because I want to support the actors,” she said. At the same time, “we also need to figure out how we can support these things because we don’t have this in the budget.”

» READ MORE: The $4.1 billion question: What’s to become of Philadelphia’s world-class arts and culture, post-coronavirus?

The format, Zizka says, opened up certain tools for dramatic messaging in the piece, whose video and sound were designed by Taj Rauch. For the Trump-fan character, the camera hones in on the mouth and teeth, focusing attention on the slogans and “not giving him a full personality.” For the frontline hospital worker, shots “focus on the eyes, and the idea of introspection and confession.”

Beschler’s Trump fan rants and raves. Martinez-Briggs’ character ponders how life and love can continue in the time of pandemic, often exploring big questions in poetic form as he goes about his hospital duties.

There’s plenty other work within that time. I try to doodle music in my mind. Start a little beat within my head. Something not to focus on the dead.

Code Blue is viewable at You’ll need to register to watch it, and donations are requested.