Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Code YouExposed Brick Theatre
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's recent reviews of Trayf and The Prom

Emmanuel L. Woods, Julia Isabel Diaz,
Joanna Keller Flores, and Ankita Ashrit

Photo by Dan Norman
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Exposed Brick Theatre received funding to support a series of short plays, collectively called "Through Our Eyes." Eight short plays were commissioned that would express the experiences of marginalized communities, especially at points of intersectionality. Code You the fifth of the plays to emerge from that process, is now being given a full production in the postage-stamp sized Dreamland Arts Theatre. The hour-long comedy, written and directed by Nora Montañez Patterson, is an intriguing story set in the early days of the pandemic, a period that will no doubt be mined for many more stage works in the years to come.

Code You captures the panic and despair that was heavy in the air at that time, and the longing for it to all go away with a finger-snap and for everything to be put back as it was. In hindsight we know that there are accommodations and different ways of organizing our social spaces and interactions that will probably stay with us. But who does not recall imagining that one day–very soon, we fervently hoped–we would wake up to read the headlines "Pandemic Over, Everything Back to Normal"? That is, in a sense, the gist of Patterson's play.

Marlen enters her small apartment looking totally wiped out. She drops her backpack heavily on the floor, sets a paper grocery bag down on her counter and cleans up empty takeout food containers and disposable cups with the gloom of knowing that there will soon be more, just like those, life reduced to an endless round of making a mess and tidying up. She looks out her window and then makes a call to her parents, who are still parked in front of her apartment building, having just dropped her off. She tells them that she made it inside fine, they can go home now.

There is some odd business involving an order of take-out sushi mysteriously dropped off outside Marlen's door. We watch her wipe down the containers with Clorox sanitized wipes, thinking oh man, it feels so long now since we did that every time we brought something into our homes ... and at the time, it felt like we'd been doing it for so long, so weary were we all of the tedium of it. She makes a stab at watching TV, which shows up as a projected image on the rear of the stage. Things pick up when a trio of Marlen's besties–Danny, Jai and Jessica–arrives unexpectedly, ready to party with her. There are no masks, social distancing, or worries about germs. When Marlen lectures them about why they should be worried, they think she has lost it. Instead, they prevail on her to call and invite Juan, a boy Maren was seeing whom she had ghosted–though, in the throes of a pandemic, who feels inspired to invest in new relationships?

This interplay between COVID-weary Marlen and her carefree friends continues, dishing out a lot of funny banter along the way, especially about how absurd our pandemic behavior would have seemed to someone who had not understood the grave need for it. It concludes with a surprise ending that, truth be told, is not that hard to anticipate. It comes somewhat abruptly, making clear the sense behind everything we have just seen, and turns the gaiety of what we have just witnessed into an inevitable sorrow. If Code You ends on a down beat, it also allows for a great amount of well-conceived humor, a time-honored way of coping with whatever troubles come our way, in the vein of "laughter is the best medicine."

Patterson has taken a clever notion and spun it into an engaging and very funny vignette. The play feels like it could be further developed. Exciting news about Marlen receiving a check for a piece of published writing goes nowhere, and there is no follow-up on the source of the mysterious sushi. Patterson makes the effort to be sure we know early on that Marlen is Latinx, but her ethnicity or a cultural perspective does not seem to make any difference to what follows. If anything, the culture depicted through most of the play is a culture of youth, built around partying, social media, drinking, and binging on Netflix. Given the loose ends, what is currently on stage could serve as grist for a longer, more fully realized piece.

If the play calls for further development, director Patterson makes the most of its present form, juxtaposing the incontestable heaviness of the pandemic with a flippant, surrealist imagining that none of it is real. The simple set is very well conceived. Its furnishings look like they came out of a Wayfair catalog, which is pitch perfect for this young adult crowd. Costume designer Simone Bernadette Williams has dressed each of these characters with a perfect sense of their backstory, and as prop master, they provides all the gear that a twenty-something in a small apartment is likely to have on hand. Peter Morrow ably designed the projections, which initially seem like a way of simply expanding on the urban environment, but gradually we realize they are an integral part of the narrative. Morrow's sound design and Mitchell Frazier's lighting design also contribute to the excellence of the production.

Julia Isabel Diaz wonderfully brings the central character of Marlen to life, cycling through a range of emotions from gloomy tedium to anxiety to giddiness to romantic abandon to fearful despair. We always have the sense that this is just how a real person in the same situation will act. José Sabillôn is completely winning as shy, eager-to-please Juan, elated at the good fortune of another chance to make a connection with Marlen. The pair also look great together, which helps to bring authenticity, as their relationship seems ready to move onto new ground.

Emmanuel L. Woods is hilarious as Danny, the mastermind of the partying taking place in Marlen's apartment. He has a sassy, finger-snapping confident air of always knowing the right next move. Ankita Ashrit and Johanna Keller Flores do excellent work as the rest of the crowd, game for whatever Danny proposes and mildly disputing each other's claims of being Marlen's best friend.

Code You is a smart, funny, insightful play, albeit one that at present feels slight. It does plant seeds that, with additional cultivation, could ripen into a much fuller play. Exposed Brick has provided the TLC to give the play a sparkling presentation that entertains and stimulates discussion, which are two of the best things any play can do.

Exposed Brick Theatre's Code You runs through February 26, 2023, at Dreamland Arts Theatre, 677 Hamline Ave. N., Saint Paul MN. Tickets: $22.00, students and artists $15.00. Tickets are available at For information about Exposed Brick Theatre, please visit

Playwright and Director: Nora Montañez Patterson; Set Design: Suzy Messerole, Nora Montañez Patterson and Aamera Siddiqui; Costume Design and Prop Master: Simone Bernadette Williams; Lighting Design: Mitchell Frazier; Projection and Sound Design: Peter Morrow; Intimacy Director: Alessandra Bongiardina; COVID/Medical Consultant: Josh Scharback; Stage Manager: Mayra Gurrola Calderon; Assistant Stage Manager: Isabella Freeland.

Cast: Ankita Ashrit (Jai), Julia Isabel Diaz (Marlen), Johanna Keller Flores (Jessica), José Sabillôn (Juan), Emmanuel L. Woods (Danny.