Posted on Feb 25, 2012
5 out of 5
How can we get people to pay attention to something that's really, really important? Everybody's so busy: there's work (if we're lucky), family, friends, obligations, deadlines, and millions of incoming messages, telling us what's important or offering escape. Besides, if the problem's really, really big — like global warming — what can any of us do?
The Civilians have an answer: dramatize it! Their latest show — "The Great Immensity," which made its world premiere on Copaken Stage Friday, February 24th — does just that. Beautifully staged in this KC Rep co-production, Civilians' outstanding six-member New York–based company — all making Kansas City debuts — brought the immense issue of global warming to life in a musical mystery that sweeps us around a big world made small by human hands.
Writer/director Steve Cosson's new show, generously leavened with Michael Freedman's music and lyrics, starts out in Panama, then carries us to the Canadian Arctic, and finally to Auckland for a quick and teary postscript at a global warming conference that anchors the drama. Our protagonist, Phyllis, arrives in Panama in search of Polly, her twin (both ably played by Rebecca Hart). Polly's an ex-Nature Channel producer who's jumped the shark and disappeared on some mission no one can figure out. The amusingly emo-activist Julie (Molly Carden) somehow has a hand in it, in league with the youthful Earth Ambassadors, an international ecology group that stays a step ahead of us all the way.
The rest of the Civilians — Todd Cerveris, Dan Domingues, Eddy Korbich, and Meghan McGeary — do double duty (triple, in Cerveris's case) in scenes and songs that release a cascade of facts and feelings in a fast-paced show running something under two hours. (An intermission was added late in the show's final development here in Kansas City.) Unlike many social-issue shows, the facts never weigh us down: most are liltingly sung. It's feelings that Crosson and Company ultimately harness to lead us into "The Great Immensity."
None of the cast puts on animal outfits, yet animals play a big part in warming our hearts to a chilling issue. Jason Thompson's projection designs animate Mimi Lien's inventive, flexible set. The cast clambers all over it in every conceivable combination, producing every conceivable effect, and some that seem rather inconceivable: who ever expected to be moved by the heart-rending song of that last living carrier pigeon, or the last lemur in the Cincinnati Zoo?
The funniest of several thematic throughlines that weave together this global drama aims right at what draws us into the Nature Channel, literal or figurative: it's the appeal of the “charismatic mega-fauna.” Guess who that turns out to be, if we really open out hearts? That's what we're led to in the sobering (though still amusing) short second act in Canada. Polar bears have become the poster children of global warming, but we're also reminded of the genocide of the Dene people, whose lucky survivors now campaign to stop the Mackenzie Valley pipeline.
Can the lucky ones — the survivors, who still have time to act — awaken soon enough? At the end, I found myself thinking of the Pied Piper. When the adults wouldn't pay the Piper, their children were lost — all but three: the lame one, the blind one, the deaf one. No matter how lame, blind or deaf we might feel, maybe we could still get lucky.
The real drama of "The Great Immensity" is our human response to the global issues we face. If you've got 20 bucks (just 10 for student rush), rush on down before it closes on March 18th. It's a credit to KC Rep that we have a gorilla of a show in our midst. And maybe there's some charismatic mega-fauna in your life that will open your heart to something more than slinging shit from some treetop on the issue of global warming.
NOTE: If that last line offends you, stay home with your kids. Tickets are available only to those 13 and older.