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Love in the Time of Jonestown with The New Coordinates, directed by Sophiyaa Nayar


The Reader


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.”


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Throughout the play, to involve us even more in this story, we hear snippets of Jim Jones’ speeches to the congregation and quick slivers of urgent news reports about the dangers of the People’s Temple. It’s not until later in this audio play that those of us who didn’t live through that history begin to believe those news reports. In such a layered story, each conversation we hear and every piece of dialogue has a place in this play, bringing us to see what’s really happing behind the scenes. Structured strategically, scenes thread together. As stakes are raised and dangers unfold in the town of Jonestown, the newcomers hearing the story for the first time will likely be thinking, “Maybe the People’s Temple isn’t what it seems…



The story is divided into three parts that I couldn’t help but binge in one sitting. Each part ends on such an enticing reveal. The reveal at the end of part one left me itching to click on the next part. The way each episode ebbs and flows in narrative weight highlights Salem’s gift for storytelling, as well as Nayar’s ability to conduct the momentum of Salem’s script with a deft hand. The sound design (Eric Backus) adds the touch of realism needed in the tragically absurd world of this cult. The sounds of the hospital, Guyana, and the other locations helped to situate me in the environment of this script without the characters having to tell me where they were. What an exciting play from Omer Abbas Salem. It is an auspicious harbinger of the talent we can expect when his play premieres next spring at First Floor Theatre.


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