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A CurtainUp Review
The Great Immensity

And the world is wide
And the world is so small
And so we ride
On our little leaky sinking board of hope
Across the hot world to come

— From the plays first song "And The Hot World
The Great Immensity
Trey Lyford, Damian Baldet, Dan Domingues (Photo credit: Richard Termine)
There's no denying that climate change is an issue that's immensely important to the entire world. But despite books, documentaries and editorials galore, too many people have continued their head-in-the-sand future-destroying habits. And the dire predictions published in a New York Times editorial ("Running Out of Time") the morning after I attended a press preview of The Great Immensity, confirm the urgency faced by the so-far futile international conferences to find a way to win the race against oblivion.

That said, one can't help but admire Steve Cosson and his company, The Civilians, for applying their talents to this vital subject, and understand why The Public Theater has given them a chance to present their vision for tackling an inherently dull and dismal theme without sacrificing the theater's mission to entertain as well as inform.

Unfortunately, much as I'd like tell you that The Great Immensity is indeed immensely entertaining, that's not the case. To borrow from The Civilians' terrific Gone Missing (my review), something's gone missing from the formula that's worked so well for them in the past. The usually quirky mix of play, documentary and almost-musical simply doesn't jell. Michael Friedman's always enjoyable songs come off as didactic and distracting. Hanging the theme on a futuristic, Orewllian thriller simply doesn't gain altitude in terms of originality or suspense.

The seven actors do their utmost, often doubling up roles, to engage us in the mystery of Karl (Chris Sullivan), a Nature Channel photographer who vanishes while on assignment at a tropical island. His wife Phyllis (Rebecca Hart) embarks on a determined quest to bring him back which also takes her far from home with all manner of implausible interactions with members of a scientific lab and a mysterious group of "earth ambassadors." The plot surrounding the upcoming international Auckland Summit fails to heighten the tension, leaving us with an escalating sense that conventional dramaturgy just isn't this company's forte.

Don't count on any relief from this being all message and no fun. Nor will you gain any compelling new insights into ways to respond to that message in some more effective way than all that's been proposed so far.

The stage craft is quite effective with the upper level of Mimi Lien's corrugated sheet metal set serving as a backdrop for Jason H. Thompson's various video backdrops, some subtly merged with the live actors.

I was relieved to note that the play had been tightened from the originally announced 2 hour and 20 minute length to two hours including a rather unnecessary intermission. However, the smidgeon of anticipation towards the end of the longer first act, quickly disintegrates into an ever more implausible and depressing finale.

The play is being mounted with plenty of other opportunities to discuss and contemplate Cosson and company's topic: Some tellingly captioned water colors line the wall of the Library. A website,, includes interviews gathered by various people, including associates of The Civilians.

The Great Immensity
Written and directed by Steven Cosson, with songs by Michael Friedman
Cast: Damian Baldet (Harold, Dr.Medvedkov); Cindy Cheung (Allie, Emmanuele); Dan Domingues (Bonifacio, Marcos, Charlie); Rebecca Hart (Phyllis); Trey Lyford (Rob, Ship Spotter, Pete); Chris Sullivan (Karl); and Erin Wilhelmi (Julie)
Scenic design: Mimi Lien
Costumes: Sarah Beers
Lighting: Jeff Croiter
Sound: Alex horn, based on original sound design by Ken Travis
Projections: Jason H. Thompson
Choreography: Tracy Bersley
Stage Manager: Terri K. Kohler
Running Time: 2 hours including one intermission
Public Lab production of The Civilians at Public's Martinson Theater
From 4/11/14; opening 4/24/14; closing 5/01/14
All tickets are only $20.
Tues through Sunday at 7:30 pm; Sat and Sun at 2pm
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at April 20th press matinee .
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