BWW Review: LAST CATASTROPHIST: Don't They Know, It's the End of the World?
Written by David Valdes, Directed by Sarah Gazdowicz; Dramaturg, Sarah Schnebly; Stage Manager, Sam O' Brien; Assistant Stage Manager, Ross Roland Gray; Assistant Director, Francis Xavier Norton; Scenic Design, Andrew Kolifrath; Lighting Design, Read Davidson; Costume Design, Erica Desautels; Sound Design, Vinny Laino; Prop Design, Lauren Corcuera; Fight Choreographer, Marge Dunn
CAST: Evelyn Holley, Shanelle Chloe Villegas
Performances through February 8 by Fresh Ink Theatre at Plaza Black Box Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Tickets at the Box Office or https:freshinktheatre.simpletix.com/
David Valdes has seen the future and it doesn't look good. If you're already losing sleep over the onrush of climate change, if the rollback of environmental regulations makes your blood boil, and if you fret about the steady departure of actual scientists from government agencies, Valdes' play Last Catastrophist can feel like the final nail in the coffin, or it may be the clarion call that prompts you to action. Either way, this new play being staged by Fresh Ink Theatre Company under the direction of Sarah Gazdowicz makes you sit up and pay attention.
Set in Iceland in the not-so-distant future, Marina (Evelyn Holley) is hiding out to escape Eternal Sunshine, a secret group that tracks, harasses, and harms climatologists simply for doing their jobs. Suddenly, another climate scientist quite literally stumbles upon her and suggests that they join forces to continue their efforts for as long as they can. Lucia (Shanelle Chloe Villegas) must convince Marina that she is genuine and that they are on the same side. However, it sets off a cat-and-mouse game that challenges the audience to connect the dots and determine what is really going on, who each of the women works for, or may be in cahoots with, and to align with one, both, or neither.
The script is dense with scientific jargon and political intrigue, the characters shout at each other a lot, and the seating configuration is on three sides of the stage floor in the intimate Plaza Black Box Theatre. These factors combine to create a less than ideal soundscape, making it difficult to actually catch everything being said and absorb important points. When the sound effects provided by designer Vinny Laino underscore parts of the play, their authenticity (rushing water, thunder, boots crunching on snow) goes a long way to create the world of the play, but they compete with the spoken dialogue.
Lighting designer Read Davidson's work makes a huge contribution to the atmosphere, even simulating the Northern Lights and a lava field, and plunging the stage into darkness to heighten the tension. Director Gazdowicz uses the seating arrangement as a tool for Marina and Lucia to perambulate the room, going behind and around the rows repeatedly to suggest their undertaking a lengthy trek to find shelter. Effective at first, these extended periods of walking in circles become tedious and seem to be filling time that would be better spent in the narrative. With the collaboration of the design team, Gazdowicz and the cast convey the high stakes in this game, tightening the screws as the play nears its denouement. Holley and Villegas do a good job of playing off each other, like two well-trained tennis players, and they keep their cards close to the vest so they keep us guessing as to who and what to believe.
Last Catastrophist raises more questions than it answers and I couldn't help but wonder how the women keep their cell phones charged, even as it stretches believability that they have reception in the extremely remote areas where they're hiding. The passage of time is fluid, but the action takes at least a couple of days, raising my next question about food supplies. They do have water bottles with them, but not a morsel of food. They'll starve to death before the climate change kills them. Come to think of it, that would be preferable to burning up or drowning. Some choice.
Photo credit: Fresh Ink Theatre (Shanelle Chloe Villegas, Evelyn Holley)