It's not often that a play gets ripped to shreds by a douchebag typing for Breitbart, creates a row in the Australian parliament, and summons a small legion of climate change deniers to their keyboards, touting how much more about science they know than, you know, actual scientists.
All before the play even gets written or produced!
But that was the turbulent gestation period of David Finnigan's 2015 play Kill Climate Deniers, a piece that has been turned into an album and a lecture tour for the writer, but, until last weekend, had never been produced. That changed when the intrepid artists at the Garage Theatre, the OC/Long Beach theater community's finest black-box theater and most adventurous programming troupe, opened its production of Finnigan's play. It's a work that, in spite of the incendiary title (one of two reasons it sparked apes to get so shitty about it, the other being the fact that the Australian government granted Finnigan 19,000 Australian dollars in 2014 to develop it), is actually more about how we talk about climate change than killing people who deny it.
"The criticism of this play is all about the title; it's nothing to do with the play itself," says co-director Ashley Elizabeth Allen. Though the play follows a group of eco-terrorists who occupy the Australian parliament during a Fleetwood Mac concert, take everyone hostage and demand that the government take drastic action to end climate change or everyone dies, the play "doesn't promote violence at all," she says. "It's actually against that kind of violence and even talks about how it's a dangerous thing to even name the play Kill Climate Deniers."
According to Allen, Finnigan, a writer and social activist based in Australia, wrote the play as a commentary on the state of dialogue, or lack thereof, about climate change and nearly every other goddamn issue on the face of the planet these days.
"Through the course of the play, you get a lot of information about climate change, but the play ultimately isn't about it," Allen says. "It's about the polarization we have fallen into, how everything is becoming more and more this side or that side, and the violent [words] and accusations of everyone saying, 'It's your fault' and blaming other people. The point of the play is that that isn't the answer. Picking sides [in that way] never works."
Like most theater companies, Allen says, the bulk of the Garagers—and the theater's demographic—tilt left. So, when co-director Matthew Anderson, who first looked into the play a year ago after seeing it on a list of new, unproduced plays about contemporary political issues, read it and turned others on to it, they felt that a work that moves more like an action-packed adventure, as opposed to a lecture, dealing with such a compelling issue (and that it calls for women to play all roles, including the playwright stand-in) seemed a good fit. What no one realized is how the concerns of the play would be magnified when it came time to mount it a year later.
From the election of Donald Trump and his pulling out of the Paris climate accord and dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency (and the current "debate" over whether climate change might be a factor in environmental calamities such as Hurricane Harvey), the topic is more urgent now than ever. Factor in the strident polarization in America on nearly everything else—from transgender people in the military to whether fascists or antifascists are more fascist than the other—and the play's chief concern of polarizing, self-destructive rhetoric is even more resonant.
"Yes, there are so many parallels," Allen says. "It's been crazy watching all this happen during the process of preparing and rehearsing the show."
While Finnigan's take on climate change is that it is 100 percent happening (his dad is a climate scientist and, therefore, a liar), Allen believes whether people walk out with a different perspective on the issue is less important than their thinking about the way they discuss it is. "There is a lot of information packed into the play, and one of our challenges has been how to present it without making it a lecture, but it's also funny," she says. "But as far as changing people's minds one way or the other [about climate change], I think that like any play, any theater, any art, there is always the possibility of people being affected or changed, but I don't think you can approach anything wanting to get people to change their minds. It's about trying to provoke a conversation, to make people think about their violent offhand comments, their more radical [posturings online], and question whether those are the [most productive ways] to talk about things like this."
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In other words, #fucktrump.
Kill Climate Deniers at the Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (866) 811-4111; www.thegaragetheatre.org. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m. Through Oct. 7. $15-$25.