A magnificent musical thriller about climate change
The Civilians' The Great ImmensityThe Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY) Map it $27
The Civilians’ The Great Immensity – a magnificent musical thriller about climate change (sounds oxymoronic; it’s not) – takes a huge risk sharing tropes with high-budget high-school awareness assemblies. “Should I really subject myself to a singsong guilt-trip?” wary ticket buyers might ask. First of all, yes – you should, and immediately – for The Civilians weaves the most poignant and artful of guilt-trip, where somehow barefaced didacticism and the musical routines administer a superbly singular theater experience. Much of Immensity’s greatness rests in its self-reflexivity. The title itself brims with it: while The Great Immensity rings fraught – at once rapturous yet grave – the play reveals it, merely, to be the “redundant,” poorly translated name of a Chinese freight ship. In another case of self-reflexivity, Immensity mines our resistance to climate change messages like its own, and our tendency to ignore them because we feel helpless in the face of this immense – yet seemingly abstract – concept. This convenient abstraction could be the death of us: as a species, are we selfless enough to disrupt the patterns of our own lives to ensure that future life exists? But before pontification can ever overwhelm the play’s artistry, writer/director Steve Cosson consistently interjects with a new element of unsettlement (e.g. a wall of singing dark-web avatars) or humor (e.g. the crazy dynamic Cindy Cheung singing a Sally Bowles-y tune about our idle sympathy toward cute animals on Youtube facing turmoil). While overflowing with characters, the play has but seven actors: both they, alongside Cosson, have imbued these fleeting presences with complex humanity. Their depiction of the prismatic qualities of us humans make the play’s foreboding message for the species all the more unshakeable — good thing this is a message that shouldn’t be shaken.
In a thrilling and timely production, presented in association with the celebrated investigative theater company, The Civilians, THE GREAT IMMENSITY is a continent-hopping thriller following a woman, Phyllis, as she pursues her husband Karl who disappeared from a tropical island while on an assignment for a nature show. Through her search, Phyllis uncovers a mysterious plot surrounding the upcoming international climate summit in Paris. As the days count down to the summit, Phyllis must decipher the plan and possibly stop it in time. With arresting projected film and video and a wide-ranging score of songs, THE GREAT IMMENSITY is a highly theatrical look into one of the most vital questions of our time: how can we change ourselves and our society in time to solve the enormous environmental challenges that confront us?