While saving the oceans and the world is noble, not much can save the extravagant presentation of “Ocean Filibuster” — except maybe a shorter script.
American Repertory Theater’s American Repertory Theater is showing the play. Loeb Drama Center, presents a future world where rising sea levels have turned New York into an island of memorials accessed only by ferry and Osaka, Japan, into an underwater destination.
To deal with the problem, there is a bill up for debate that proposes the government pump some excess water into caverns deep in the earth, and send the rest into outer space beyond the atmosphere. There will be more land which will make it possible to rock climb the Great Barrier Reef or cycle from Florida to Cuba. The ocean’s remaining seven seas will be reduced to a smaller number.
But the Ocean (Jennifer Kidwell), does not want to be controlled. So it comes to plead its case before the bespectacled Mr. Majority (also Kidwell), stop the seven seas agenda and show senate members how inextricably connected humans are to the ocean and everything in it. But the argument to be made isn’t an easy one.
The title implies that the show will be a long discussion through song and speech. The show is jam-packed with information, data points, and even a story about yeti crab. But the execution could use re-tooling; it’s preachy and uninspiring.
Kidwell, an Obie Award-winning actor, was entertaining, especially during the second half when they were “luxuriating” on a bed of sequined pillows.
There were moments when Mr. Majority and the Ocean’s heated debate didn’t provide much space for Kidwell to morph between the two characters. At one point, the actor started saying the Ocean’s next line while still removing Mr. Majority’s red glasses. Perhaps Mr. The Ocean and Majority were not portrayed by separate actors. However, the show could have been better served if Mr.
The production was spurred by a collaboration between A.R.T. and the Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE) that aims to make audiences consider the climate crisis by tugging at the heart imaginatively. Theater artists were invited to collaborate with scientists and scholars to create new works.
Creative duo Lisa D’Amour and Katie Pearl are the playwright and director. Their Obie Award-winning company, PearlDamour, is known for immersive works that “Mix theater and installation,” such as “How to Build a Forest,” an eight-hour performance where a simulated forest is assembled and disassembled.
This isn’t the A.R.T.’s first foray into theater that centers climate change. “Wild,” the fable that took an odd turn, also lacked subtlety, but was at least fun to watch despite its ending. However, “Ocean Filibuster,” dragged on without much luster.
What does work in “Ocean Filibuster” is the smart set design by Jian Jung, a New York-based theater designer. It propels the audience into filibuster’s action. Jung’s gleaming white Senate hall, complete with official seals, books and letters, doubles as a set of screens used for lighting by Thomas Dunn and gorgeous projections by Tal Yarden. Most memorable are the animations of swimming plankton, images of deep-sea life which resemble outer space and the flashing digital numbers during Kidwell’s song about time.
Sxip Shirey’s music selections about being in charge, like Nas’ “If I Ruled the World” at the start of the show and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” at the end, were thoughtful.
Olivera Gajic has also dressed the ocean choir in gauzy pleated fabrics and colorful headdresses that look like a reef. And in the second half, Gajic puts Kidwell in a striking, blue-green neck accessory that seems to nod to the beauty and complexity of sea slugs.
A.R.T. was able to deliver a compelling and entertaining show despite the long duration. and HUCE’s commitment to combat the climate crisis was evident throughout. Evan Spigelman, who is also part of the ocean choir, played a brilliant bronze-sequined fish that teaches the audience about codfish reproduction, the challenges they face, and how to save their habitat. Theatergoers could then scan a QR code and sign the petition immediately. There was augmented reality fun with the Deep Wonder app that people could play, as well as a digital program, and relevant exhibits in the hallway.
And even though “Ocean Filibuster” is a bit overstuffed for this audience member, perhaps the A.R.T. and HUCE partnership did accomplish what it set out to do scientifically: I learned some facts I didn’t know before. However, artistically, it was not up to the mark.
“Ocean Filibuster” runs through March 13 at the Loeb Drama Center and streams March 9-27.