The Flats was commissioned by the Aurora Theatre Company in response to the pandemic. Image: Aurora Theatre

The three-part audio drama The Flats is a prime example of how to create an engaging theatrical experience despite the limits imposed by our Covid-ridden world.

Commissioned by the Aurora Theatre Company in response to the pandemic, The Flats was jointly written by three award-winning local playwrights: Lauren Gunderson (I and You, The Book of Will), Cleavon Smith (TheatreFirst’s Last Sermon of Sister Imani), and Jonathan Spector (Eureka Day).

Skillfully directed by Aurora’s Artistic Director Josh Costello (The Importance of Being Earnest, Eureka Day), The Flats is about three Berkeley residents who each live in an apartment in a triplex building. A shelter-in-place order caused by a mysterious threat has thrown their lives into chaos.

Brooke (Khary L. Moye), a Black man, is used to navigating his way through Berkeley’s mostly white world. Harmony (Lauren English, ACT’s Gloria) is a white suburban mom from Sacramento, newly separated (or should one say “freed”?) from her husband and three children. Leonard (Anthony Fusco, lead actor in many ACT and Cal Shakes productions) is an aging Berkeley hippie podcaster who has seen a lot and believes little.

 The one-hour long first act of The Flats, which opened on Oct. 23, 2020, introduces the three characters as they begin to learn about each other. We acquire just enough information about them to pique our interest and whet our appetite for additional plot development. The cause of the mysterious threat lurks menacingly in the background. The realistic sound effects (Everett Elton Bradman, Sound Designer) compliment the three actors’ vocalization talent.

When asked why Aurora is creating audio rather than Zoom visual productions, Josh Costello said, “With Zoom, actors can’t make eye contact, and it’s difficult to sync up correctly. Aurora’s expertise is in presenting nuanced language-based drama rather than video.”

I’m a big fan of audiobooks, so for me, listening to an audio play is very natural and comfortable. I love the way listening to fiction and theater allows one’s imagination to take wing. And The Flats was developed as expertly as if one of the experienced major audio producers was behind the scenes. So if this experience is new to you, please give it a chance; you’ll like it.

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...