BWW Review: Florida gets squishy in SEA LEVEL RISE: A DYSTOPIAN COMEDY at Broadway Bound Theatre Festival
The music from 2001: A Space Odyssey opens Sea Level Rise: A Dystopian Comedy. Set in a future South Florida, this play considers a world where the ocean has risen two feet. The low lying town of Sweetwater is feeling the pain. Maria (Rebecca Smith) is on her cellphone trying to get help. Her septic tank is no longer buried and is broken. The situation is dire. She declares "my Dad's shit is pouring out of the ground."
Henry Feldman's play was selected as part of this summer's Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Each selection is staged for three performances on an off-Broadway stage. Climate change is certainly a ripe, topical target for an absurdist tale. How will people adapt to a watery world?
In the future, Siri will be far more involved in your life than today. You will ask Siri questions but she will also listen in on your conversations. Maria hears that she must wait two months for a service appointment for her septic. Siri's been monitoring other calls so Maria knows that's the standard wait time. Then the witty punchline lands. Has Apple programmed water coolers where all the Siri's hang out and gossip?
The tone throughout this play is playful jabs at all of us who are ignoring the ominous signs for the future "so we can drive our big ass SUV's today." Maria lives at home with her father (William Shuman). He is walking outside barefoot since he "likes squishy." When the health inspector arrives, Maria learns that she and her father have to evacuate their home until the repairs are made.
Daughter Ana (Ria Nez) is a lawyer who knows do-gooder Tony Beech (Bill Barry) can help them temporarily relocate. He is married to a climate change professor at the University of Miami. Ana does not know that Tony and her mother had a tryst when they were young. The plot gets overstuffed quickly. When Beth (Mindy Cassle) begins her lecture entitled Climate Change 101, she is drinking from a flask.
Maria's family fled Nicaragua years ago and now they are refugees once again. The Russians now own all the Florida shore front condominiums but they are largely empty. If you rent one on Airbnb, the reservation is in Cyrillic. Why do they own all of these buildings? Money laundering. Sea Level Rise swings at so many targets.
The best ones land when they are connected to character development. Gun control is another Florida hot topic perfectly suited for ridicule. Hank (Victor Barranca) owns two guns. Semi-automatic Bonnie and pistol Clyde are his friends. Hank is squatting in Sunny Isles, one of the Russian investments. He puts his garbage in empty apartments but that idea is not really explored further.
As health inspector Bill, John Torres seemed to embody the ideal absurdist tone for this comedy. Like all men drawn to action, "I live for danger." He manages to locate everyone late in the play thanks to the phone tracker. Siri is asked "how could you?" She confesses that "they take off my bits until I couldn't take it anymore." Bill has to post an evacuation notice for his own home and struggles with the concept of pleading mercy with himself.
Sea Level Rise could be funnier and tighter. Jokes are often repeated with diminishing effect. During the big scene near the end, the focus turns to certain characters. Everyone else stands around diluting the action with nothing to do but watch. The idea for a climate change comedy coupled with Florida's farcical news cycle is ripe with promise. With more deeply developed characters, this elongated skit could warm up into a sharply edged play.