New 'Eco-Drama' EXTREME WHETHER to Run 10/2-26 at TNC
"Extreme Whether," a new "eco-drama" written and directed by Karen Malpede, centers on an embattled American climate scientist living in an idyllic wilderness estate in the Northeast Coast. Set during the record-hot summers of 2004 and 2012, the play pits the scientist against his twin sister in a no-holds barred family struggle over land ownership and the future use of their wilderness estate. In one corner is John Bjornson, a composite of famous climatologists. In the other is his twin sister, Jeanne, an energy spokeswoman married to a skeptical lobbyist. Actor Jeff McCarthy ("Cheers," "Urinetown," "Chicago") heads the cast of six as the scientist. Theater Three Collaborative and Theater for the New City will present the work at TNC October 2 to 26, 2014, directed by the author.
In the play, the family struggle over the wilderness estate and its future reveals the fault lines in America today over land usage, global warming and "climate denial." Supporting John's struggle over the land are the caretaker of the estate, a man named Uncle (played by George Bartenieff); John's precocious 13 year-old daughter (played by Kathleen Purcell) and a young ice scientist with an important new theory (played by Di Zhu). Opposing them are John's sister Jeanne (played by Ellen Fiske) and her energy lobbyist husband (played by Alex Tavis).
Playwright Karen Malpede is known for fearlessly addressing urgent issues in every play, from genetic engineering (in "Better People") to the U.S. torture program (in "Another Life"). She views Global Warming and its facilitator, Climate Denial, as the most urgent issues of our time and admires the courage of scientists to speak out and guide us. To bring these issues to the stage, she adopted the Ibsenist paradigm (seen in "An Enemy of the People" and "Rosmerholm") of setting struggles of the public interest as conflicts within a family.
The characters and plot of this play are informed by the books, lives and research of several contemporary scientists. Jeff McCarthy's character, the scientist named John Bjornson, is largely based on Dr. James Hansen, the NASA scientist who testified to congress in 1988 that global warming had begun. Other influences are the life and work of Dr. Michael Mann, author of "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars"; Dr. Jennifer Francis, a researcher on the rapidly melting Arctic ice and its effect on the elongation of the Jet Stream, and Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a researcher on the effects of the herbicide Atrazine. For further information on these sources, please see these author's notes by Karen Malpede: www.jsnyc.com/season/EW_primer.htm.
Actor Jeff McCarthy, who is widely known for "Cheers" and Broadway's "Urinetown," "Chicago" and "Beauty and the Beast," is also staking out a reputation for "activist" roles. Last year, he created the title character in "Kunstler" by Jeffrey Sweet, a play about the radical civil rights attorney, William Kunstler, in its debut production at Hudson Stage, which is slated to become a film. McCarthy is ardent on the subject of climate change. Tall and lanky, he even bears a resemblance to Dr. James Hansen, on whom the character of John is largely based.
The play is language- and character-based, which stands it in contrast with many current plays on contemporary controversial issues, which tend to rely on interview techniques and employ docudrama. George Bartenieff, who plays Uncle, praised Jeff McCarthy for taking the role of John, saying "For what Karen [Malpede] has written, you need the skills that actors used to have. Now we have a male actor who has these skills and represents more traditional theater. It lifts everybody up. He understands the play and the richness of its characters."
Believing that an engaged, poetic theater is essential to a healthy and functioning democracy, Theater Three Collaborative produces Festivals of Conscience alongside its productions. These are post-play events where esteemed authors, activists and experts interact with playgoers face-to-face in a public forum on the play's issues. Drs. James Hansen and Jennifer Francis will participate in the Festival of Conscience accompanying "Extreme Whether," joined by other public intellectuals in the field of climate change.
FESTIVAL OF CONSCIENCE (schedule in formation)
Oct 2 - Columbia Professor Todd Gitlin on Fossil Fuel Divestment.
Oct 4 - Dr. Radley Horton, Columbia University and co-author of the Obama Administration's Climate Assessment Report.
Oct 5 - Dr. Jennifer Francis, Rutgers, author of the cutting-edge theory of Arctic Ice Melt and extreme weather.
Oct 9 - Opening Night with climate prophet Dr. James Hansen, NASA scientist, who told Congress in 1988 that global warming had begun.
Oct 10 - Prof. Andrew Revkin, Pace, plays Climate Music post-show.
Oct 16 - Prof. Gerald Markowitz, John Jay College, on industry's relationship to science.
Oct 17 - Marielle Anzelone, Urban ecologist.
Oct 18 - Dr. Jannette Barth, Why Not To Frack.
Oct 23- Prof. Ana Baptista, New School for Social Research, Environmental Justice and the Poor
Oct 24 - Charles Komanoff, Policy Analyst, on a Carbon Tax.
Oct 25- Prof. Dale Jamieson,NYU, Reason in A Dark Time
Music and sound design are by Arthur Rosen. Projection and graphic design are by Luba Lukova. Set design is by Derek Connell. Costume design is by Sally Ann Parsons. Lighting design is by Tony Giovannetti.
"Extreme Whether" had a reading produced by TNC in April, 2013 as part of a "Festival of Conscience" accompanying the TNC production of "Another Life" by Karen Malpede. That reading, attended by an overflow audience, was followed with a post-show talk by Dr. James Hansen, the NASA Climate Scientist who primarily inspired the character of John. That week, he had resigned from NASA to participate in an amicus curiae suit on climate change. The play was also developed in readings at the NY Horticultural Society, Cherry Lane Theater and Columbia University.
Pictured: Jeff McCarthy and Di Zhu as climate scientists. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.