Footprints of the Polar Bear & Other Eco-Centric Plays
By Phil Paradis
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
The Earth is being killed off by pollution and if mankind doesn’t do something to stop it, we are all doomed as well. This is the theme hammered home by playwright Phil Paradis in his Off-Off-Broadway one-act multiple bill, Footprints of the Polar Bear & Other Eco-Centric Plays, presented in a limited run by the American Theatre of Actors.
Several of the playlets attack the subject with a black sense of humor, but the centerpiece of the evening is Footprints of the Polar Bear, directed by Laurie Rae Waugh, in which a homeless and alcoholic Gulf War vet (Ken Coughlin) engages in an epic tirade at passersby, humanity and the universe at large about the fact that we have allowed Big Oil to rape the planet and “What we do to the Earth we do to ourselves.”
The audience is left to wonder if this messenger is the best one to get this message taken seriously. Or is Paradis trying to say that it’s already too late and therefore pointless—just a raging against the dying of the light?
A savage sense of humor informs Natural Rarities Up For Bid, directed by Jessica Jennings, in which the world’s wealthiest man (Bennett Ferguson) buys up the last precious ounces of clean water, food and air in the world as part of a cartoonish auction to raise money for people stranded and starving from rising seas due to global warming. Jamie Bartolett, who plays the co-presenter in the scene, keeps her relentless perky comedic equilibrium in a scene that grows more insane by the moment.
Two other plays sideswipe other social issues as they satirize our culture’s indifference to the pollution disaster. Directed by Monica Blaze Leavitt, Breaking Gulf News shows what happens when a fire-breathing Coast Guardsman (Cedric Jones) who is all set to eviscerate a smooth-talking oil company executive (Johnny Blaze Leavitt) on a TV news show, suddenly is offered the bribe of his life.
Directed by Chris Goodrich, God is a Ford Man, offers another outraged crazy person (Dan Wuerdeman) a chance to harangue us about how God is mad about the 1969 moon landings, and has sent tornados, wildfires, sinkholes and Chevrolets—yes, Chevrolets—as a punishment for our sins.
The gentlest and most elegiac of the playlets, The Perfect Place, directed by Art Bernal, is in many ways the most effective. An old man (William Grenville) and his grandson (Jake Smith) are searching through a wilderness for the perfect spot to plant a tiny oak seedling. Along the way they close a rift between the generations and express hope that a time will come when their descendants will see the tree full-grown. It’s a moment of inspirational optimism that might have played better as the final segment instead of the first. But Paradise obviously feels that the best route is still to fight or die trying.
Footprints of the Polar Bear & Other Eco-Centric Plays is playing an limited run through November 24 at American Theatre of Actors in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan.