Review: In ‘Earthquakes in London,’ climate change shakes a family to its core
The truths we hold to be self-evident revolve around personal liberty, but when it comes to the greater good — the survival of the planet, for example — other truths are less convenient. Navigating the moral tightrope between individual need and collective responsibility brings riveting seismic impact to Rogue Machine‘s production of the climate change drama “Earthquakes in London.”
British playwright Mike Bartlett’s remarkably prescient 2010 work explores the existential challenges posed by successive generations of greed, neglect and science denial, laying particular blame on boomers who knowingly traded their descendants’ futures for short-term gratification.
Flashbacks introduce us to the corruption of a brilliant young engineer who buried his alarming environmental research findings in exchange for funding from the rapidly expanding airline industry of the early 1970s. The bulk of the play concerns the present-day legacy of that original sin, as the three daughters of the now-embittered scientist (Ron Bottitta) deal with a looming climate crisis.
The oldest (Anna Khaja), a pragmatic politician, settles for incremental, purely symbolic policy measures (curbing runway expansion at Heathrow airport, for example). The cynical youngest (Taylor Shurte) abandons herself to carpe diem hedonism. It’s the middle sister, Freya (Ava Bogle) — a docile and very pregnant housewife — who provides the focus for the play’s disturbing central question: Is it a blessing or a sin to bring a child into today’s world?
The members of this dysfunctional family become increasingly sympathetic as layers of self-protection peel away to expose their traumas and very human weaknesses. Their stories artfully play out against the bigger issues that the playwright frames with formidable clarity.
Co-directors Hollace Starr and John Perrin Flynn deliver the play’s messages with urgency leavened with sly humor. A whimsically choreographed dance sequence inventively projects Freya’s pregnancy dilemma with a fantasy troupe of smugly complacent mothers bearing cloth-swaddled infants.
Still, the epic sprawl of Bartlett’s play would benefit from more elaborate staging than the bare-bones design that the production shares in repertory with “Disposable Necessities.”
With a 17-member cast tackling 36 British characters, accents pose a further challenge. Results are credible, but at times the efforts are so focused on enunciation that they leave the characters unshaded and generic. Bottitta and Khaja layer their accents with intriguingly complex emotional currents.
Despite its ominous environmental prognosis, “Earthquakes in London” holds out a possibility that we can avoid the worst — if we’re willing to make difficult personal and collective changes.
'Earthquakes in London'
Where: Rogue Machine in the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 1 (check for exceptions)
Info: (855) 585-5185 or roguemachinetheatre.com
Running time: 3 hours (one intermission)
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