The world premiere of “The Great Immensity” opened Friday at Copaken Stage, the Rep’s downtown performance venue, and revealed the risk-taking show to be a rather unwieldy cargo container of theatrical virtues and deficiencies. The show is well-acted, quirky, sincere, sometimes confusing and desperately in need of something resembling dramatic tension. Written and directed by Steve Cosson, with original songs by Michael Friedman, the show seems dedicated to the notion that it’s possible to liberate vital information from research papers and science journalism and present it in an entertaining but no less informative way on stage.
The idea, I suppose, is to send theatergoers forth into the world to do battle with – well, with somebody. Politicians? Importers? Corporate polluters? International investment bankers? Doing so would definitely be fighting the good fight. But if you accept this play’s contention that the planet is going down the tubes, is that knowledge really enough? People beset by immediate day-to-day problems – unemployment, health insurance worries – may have a to-do list that doesn’t include defending the eco-ramparts.
The creative highlights of this production include Friedman’s songs, which are graced with clever lyrics and offbeat storytelling devices while remaining melodically infectious. And the actors, all out-of-towners, bring quite a bit of humor, warmth and clarity to a show that isn’t about three-dimensional characters.
The title of the show is taken from the name of a huge Chinese container ship that Cosson and Friedman saw when they were researching the piece in the Panama Canal and the ship, or at least a fictional version of it, figures into the dramatic narrative.
The setup: Phyllis (Rebecca Hart) arrives at Barro Colorado Island, a rain forest and research preserve, in search of her missing twin sister Polly. Polly, a film maker who was apparently working on a cable documentary, has simply disappeared and Phyllis is determined to find out what happened to her.
She enlists the help of some of the island researchers (Dan Domingues, Meghan McGeary, Eddie Korbich) and makes contact via Skype with a cryptic but comical figure known as the Ship Spotter (Todd Ceveris), who knows more than he admits. Cosson jumps back in time and allows us to see Polly (also played by Hart) before she disappeared. We get a clue about what she’s up to in her communications with the Ship Spotter and we get some of her back-story as she shoots a video interview with Julie, an angry teenage “Earth Ambassador” (Mollie Carden).
The first act is set on the island. Act 2 shifts to Churchill, Manitoba, the “polar bear capital of the world,” because Phyllis discovers that Polly may have gone there after she left Panama. There Phyllis meets other quick-sketch characters (McGeary and Korbich as instructors for a gathering of young Earth Ambassadors, Ceveris as the hard-drinking Dr Medvedkov) and eventually connects with Charlie (Domingues), who works at Churchill’s port facility and knows exactly what happened to Polly. Read the complete review at kansascity.com.