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A CurtainUp Review

How do you tell a compelling story about climate change? How do you create human stakes in the face of something so vast? How do you find hope when there is so much bad news? And is giving an audience hope the responsibility of a storyteller or not? — Playwright, Bess Wohl
Alex Hurt, Jasmine Batchelor, and Megan Ketch (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
As a climatologist in Bess Wohl's world premiere play, Continuity states, "In the very near future, Homo sapiens will be gone. And shortly thereafter. . .all humans will die." Chilling. Yet, the subject of climate control, while proven to be scientifically authentic, remains politically controversial. Wohl says, "When you talk to scientists, they say that we haven't found a narrative that connects with people enough."

DIrected by Rachel Chavkin ( Hadestown, ) Wohl is exploring a cataclysmic situation via the farcical merry-go-round of making a film. The Manhattan Theatre Club's production at City Center Stage II features a film crew shooting a thriller in New Mexico, where a sheet of melting ice is blanketing the desert.

Psycotic eco-terrorist, George, has planted a bomb as "humanity's wake-up call" to cause a tsunami destroying the entire West Coast. He is about to shoot a young climatologist, Dr. Anna Gerber, when another scientist, Eve, interrupts him and tries to convince him not to detonate the bomb. As they play out the scene, what should be a nail-biter has more the feeling of a melodrama heightened by giggly comedy.The mood is "hurry up and wait" as the frenzied film director, Maria (Rosal Colón) rushes to finish the scene while they still have light.

The play unfolds over six takes of the same scene, and per the title tries to maintain continuous action and exact precision in the various scenes. Not so easy as the actors must unveil nuances in their personal lives, stress, fatigue, frustration, illness and drugs that alter upcoming scenes.

With every call for "Cut!," actors step out of character and deftly morph into their quirky, multi-layered actor-selves. Terrorist "George" is played by lightweight actor, Jake (Alex Hurt), who yearns to be a major action star. "Eve" is diva film star, Nicole (Megan Ketch), and "Dr. Anna Gerber" is Lily (Jasmine Batchelor), a young African-British theater school graduate. During the breaks, each character displays added definition. Nicole is a recovering drug addict, resentful about possible slights, demanding hair or makeup adjustments although she claims "you're making me sound like a primadonna, which is totally not what I'm doing here." Basically, they are all needy.

Maria, the film director, reveals her own problematic life. This film is her first high-budget project and she tries to quarterback some order into the high-maintenance cast and finish the scene before the light fades. She wants a serious film. She is interrupted by unexpected visits from the movie's original screenwriter— Caxton (Darren Goldstein), her ex-lover who is now after Nicole. Goldstein's Caxton is arrogant but struggling with cancer, has been called in for rework on the film. Also popping by is Larry (Max Baker), a pessimistic science consultant who's now particularly interested in the production's craft services. Larry's lengthy discourse at the end ties the matter of climate control into a tight, dark knot by calling the film just part of the problem and a distraction from actually taking drastic action.

Film shoots are notoriously slow but under the helm of Rachel Chavkin the play clocks in at a brisk 100 minutes, and with mounting tension. Chavkin, hones on the emotions as well as the bickering artists' humor. Nicole is a standout as she manipulates to get her way. Crew members call out instructions that are repeated by other crew members. An audience favorite is the indominable PA (played by Garcia) who is nonplussed as he runs about, adoitly fixing what has to be fixed — while the director hurries to finish the scene and the cast grows increasingly more tense.

Adam Rigg's icy white scenic design is striking. Designer Isabella Byrd traces the daylight and occasional sound effects are provided by Mikaal Sulaiman. Brenda Abbandandolo designed suitable costumes for make-believe icy climates. Remember however, the filming is in New Mexico— that's show biz.

While the play has choppy segments and little new information about the problem of climate control or movie making, Continuity is entertaining, serious and with laugh-out-loud moments. Wohl has already proven herself. Her Small Mouth Sounds, also directed by Chavkin won the Outer Critics Circle John Glassner Award and the Sam Norkin Special Drama Desk Award( Curtainup's review during it's second run at the Signature Theater Center). In the upcoming season, her comedy-drama, Grand Horizons is scheduled to open at the 2nd Stage's Hayes Theater.

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Continuity by Bess Wohl
Director: Rachel Chavkin
Cast: Max Baker, Jasmine Batchelor, Rosal Colón, Curran Connor, Garcia, Darren Goldstein, Alex Hurt, Megan Ketch
Set Design: Adam Rigg
Costume Design: Brenda Abbandandolo
Lighting Design: Isabella Byrd
Sound Design:  Mikaal Sulaiman
Production Stage Manager: Jereme Kyle Lewis
Produced: Manhattan Theater Club Running Time: 100 minutes, mao intermission.
Theatre: City Center Theater, The Studio at Stage II. 131 East 56 St.
Tues-Fri at 7:15pm, Sat at 2:15pm and 7:15pm, Sun at 2:15pm
Preview: 5/8/19. Opens: 5/21/19. Closes: 6/9/19.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors on 05/18/19

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