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BWW Review: Penelope Skinner's THE RUINS OF CIVILIZATION, a Dystopian Dilemma


While American presidential candidates discuss issues of climate change, privilege, women having control of their bodies and putting up walls, British playwright Penelope Skinner bundles them all together in her futuristic drama The Ruins of Civilization.

Tim Daly and Rachael Holmes
?(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Set in a time when climate change threatens to engulf much of the world in water, there's a wall protecting the elite who are provided with material comforts as long as they follow some simple rules.

Designer Neil Patel offers a sleek, sterile living room set for privileged couple, Dolores (Rachael Holmes) and Silver (Tim Daly), who receive a government stipend while he writes a book, as long as she remains childless.

Every day Silver checks Dolores' mouth to make sure she swallows her birth control pills and there are periodic visits from a government inspector (Orlagh Cassidy) who inquires if any maternal instincts have been kicking in.

Dogs and cats are regarded as vermin, but Dolores can't stop thinking about how, on a recent trip outside the wall to an ecologically threatened part of the world, Silver wouldn't let her comfort an injured dog dying at the side of a road. In his eyes, the most humane and efficient solution would be to put it out of its misery.

Rachael Holmes and Roxanna Hope
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Dolores takes it as a sign when she spots an advertisement from Mara (Roxanna Hope), who is a massage therapist from the country she just visited. (Mara's nationality is mentioned in the ad because her massages come with something extra for male clientele.) Unable to save the world, Dolores feels compelled to at least help in the small ways that she can, and offers Mara a chance to live in their spare room for free. When she learns her new friend is pregnant after being raped by a client, the thought of helping to raise a secret child increases her enthusiasm. ("Maybe we should call the baby Anne. Or Frank.")

After her intriguing THE VILLAGE BIKE two years ago, The Ruins of Civilization seems a letdown, as the dystopian plot plays all too familiarly. Director Leah C. Gardiner's staging is efficient and the ensemble company is fine, but the meandering dialogue and thinly-developed characters create little reason for empathy.

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From This Author Michael Dale