'The Corona Dialogues' Brings Dark Family Comedy To A Zoom Web Series

Kate Orsini and Dylan Brody in The Corona Dialogues. (Courtesy Dylan Brody)

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Humorist Dylan Brody had an upcoming book to promote. Then COVID-19 happened. He decided to mine the experience for his dark comedy The Corona Dialogues, a Web series centered around Zoom conversations. So we talked with him about it — on Zoom.

Brody started the series thinking he'd be the star but as the work evolved, he decided it would be better to spotlight actress Kate Orsini and focus on his writing. Orsini stars as Lindsay; Brody plays her brother Daniel.

You can watch the first episode, focused around two adult siblings with a longstanding rivalry, here:

Brody had only planned to do two episodes. Then, Orsini came to him and handed him a script for a third episode and asked if they could do one more.

"I got to see someone else writing in my voice, which is very strange and surreal," Brody said. "The one she brought to me didn't have me in it. And it was good. So what am I going to do? Say 'No, I'm not going to make a good episode of my series because it's not what I expected?'"

In the middle of shooting that third episode, he realized the series was actually about Lindsay, not Daniel. But Daniel still had a key part to play in the next story arc.

GEORGE FLOYD'S DEATH

After the first few episodes were released, George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, touching off a wave of protests around the United States. Brody felt that continuing a series about self-involved white people would be pointless and tone-deaf.

"I was dealing with real personal guilt and shame," he said. "And finally I forced myself to go to the first of the protests that I went to."

These experiences gave him new inspiration for a second five-episode arc, which peaks when Daniel confesses to Lindsay that he hasn't been going to the protests.

"She is a white woman grappling with where she is complicit, and where she is an ally, and how much claiming to be an ally is kind of bulls—- anyway because it's not like I was doing anything until someone was lynched in public," Brody said.

Orsini wrote the first two-thirds of that episode, then sent it back to Brody to write his character's own confessional monologue — it marked a new level of collaboration for the two. Even while not able to be in the same room.

ZOOM AS A NEW MEDIUM

Dylan Brody talks The Corona Dialogues with us via Zoom. (LAist)

Brody said that for years he has claimed we're living in a dark age of creativity, and he hoped to help other writers lead us into a new renaissance. But the current pandemic reminded him that between the Dark Ages and the Renaissance, there was a plague — and the plague was a necessary part of the transition because it inspired what came after. And according to Brody, creating art via Zoom may be a part of that.

"The Zoom medium — it's not social networking. The video conferencing that everybody's using now has us all experiencing one another in extreme close-up," Brody said.

While we're farther apart than ever, Brody notes, Zoom places us into a more intimate space with each other. Instead of meeting in an office, you see the space in which the person on the other side of the screen lives. Brody has always made it a priority in his writing to get personal.

FICTIONALIZING YOUR LIFE

The Corona Dialogues isn't entirely based on Brody's life, but it's also not not based on his life, either.

"It's not exactly autobiographical, but it is awfully confessional," Brody said.

This fictionalized version of his family first originated in a play Brody wrote while in therapy: Mother May I. Those characters have continued to evolve, now with new names.

Brody ended up identifying more with Orsini's character than he expected — he'd thought he was writing the character of Daniel as the most direct version of himself, but instead found that Lindsay was also a projection of himself.

"She is the successful Hollywood figure that I continue to hope to feel I am," Brody said. "I didn't realize that I was growing into becoming this other element of my inner psyche."

Seeing Orsini bring the character to life on screen sparked that realization.

"More and more, my confession was going into her words. Elements of my persona are shifting to her character — and really, the Daniel I'm writing is really a me from 10 or 12 years ago," Brody said.

The Corona Dialogues has been a success, earning awards at several independent film festivals, but it remains to be seen where that will lead Brody. "For years, I thought I was afraid of success. And in fact, I'm just afraid of money. ... I don't know how I managed to be this successful and not make money," he said.

The Corona Dialogues is currently running another five-episode arc, its third "season." Guest stars have ranged from actress Bonnie Hunt to Brody's real-life father, playing his fictional father in his first acting role since 1958.

"After this five episodes, I will have a little conversation with the writer/director/creator of this ridiculous little series — who is me," Brody said. "We're going to sit down and we're going to say, 'Is there really any profit in this? Is the time worth it if there's no profit?' And we'll make decisions like grown-ups, even though when we are playing, we are doing so like joyous children."

The book that inspired the series, Relatively Painless, will be released this fall and is currently available for pre-order. Brody also teaches writing classes.

You can see Brody telling a story on stage — about his mother — here: