While its drama focuses on 20th-century events, the New Coordinates’ (the company formerly known as the New Colony) Love in the Time of Jonestown is uncannily contemporary—which is exactly how historical fiction should feel.
Production-wise, Jonestown richly reflects our time and place. Written by Omer Abbas Salem, it’s a radio play in three parts that handily realizes the theatrical possibilities of audio. In the before times, podcasting was already fertile soil for storytellers and saw plenty of crossover with television. But as “dark days” became truly dark months, theater kids began to intuitively harness the medium for themselves on a large scale. These sound projects are now everywhere, but Jonestown is my first encounter with one such production from a storefront. Given the city’s history as a radio and theater hub, I can see shows like this becoming a bright and enduring thread in our cultural fiber. Why weren’t we already doing more of this?
Love in the Time of Jonestown
Streaming through 12/12 at thenewcoordinates.org, $15.
The nonlinear story itself is both gripping and tender. Through Rassoul, the protagonist played by Salem, we’re shown how desperation can lead people to erase their identities in the name of belonging, how easily love becomes shorthand for abuse in these situations.
And, though true crime podcasts might have you think that it’s the only version of this story, Salem’s harrowing piece, directed by Sophiyaa Nayar, isn’t about a white mother trying to save her white daughter from a bunch of deadly hippies. Instead, Jonestown smartly examines dogma that goes so far to the left that it’s actually on the far right, building out a coercive utopia where all identities—especially those Black, Brown, and queer—are erased in the name of “peace.”