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Risa Shoup Headshot

Twenty-First Century Fish Tale

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I fear I've become desensitized
to themes of environmental conservation. I recycle, okay?
I drink water out of my
SIGG, I use biodegrable laundry detergent
and recycled toilet paper, and I'm writing this under the warm glow
of a fluorescent light bulb. But it's gotten to the point where
I can't even enjoy my favorite color anymore without feeling like
I'm getting a lecture. It isn't that I don't care about saving
our planet - quite the opposite. I've factored "being green"
into my lifestyle, my repartee, and my list of things to be anxious
about. So when I sit down to enjoy a little entertainment, I want
some distraction... but I realize blinding myself to man's destruction
of our ecosystem is as bad as driving a Hummer while clubbing a seal,
if not worse.

Polybe
and Seats'
A Thousand, Thousand
Slimy Things
is
a play that raises awareness about marine conservation wrapped in fantasia.
The play is not an allergory, and it feels neither didactic nor cloyingly
topical. It is at once an engaging fiction and a harrowing tale
of the dangers of pollution. Playwright Katya Schapiro says, "As
artists, we approach the problems of climate change and the richness
of the ocean landscape from a different perspective than that of a climate
scientist or a marine biologist, as we hope in this way to contribute
to the ongoing conversation--but also, we just can't resist a great
story, and there's nothing like the sea for that."

The company has been developing
this story for several years. Director Jessica Brater was initially
inspired by "Save our Tails" campaign to preserve
Weeki Wachee Springs
State Park
, "the
only city of live mermaids" and one of America's oldest roadside
attractions. Later, concern for ocean acidification lead to the
company's discovery of the
North
Central Pacific Gyre
,
a patch of garbage in the Pacific spanning nearly ten million square
miles. Katya Schapiro's poetic script conflates these stories
into one walloping fish tale fusing the words of Coleridge and Ibsen
with mutating mermaids, love-struck explorers, and original text generated
by over 20 actors, writers and designers.

The show opened auspiciously
the day after Earth Day and takes place on the
Waterfront Museum
and Showboat Barge

in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Not only is this the perfect environment for
a play about the life marine, but in the words of the organization,
it is meant to inspire an "understanding of the NY Harbor as a waterway
carrying commerce and commuters as well as a means for culture and recreation."
The set and props are made entirely from recycled and salvaged materials.
A bright yellow octopus is made from plastic bags and the stripped skeleton
of an umbrella; the skin of a mermaid is really made from repurposed
acid-green material of plasticized origins.

Sitting in the audience, you
are at once awed by these innovative recycling efforts and drawn into
the magical hand-made world that reminds you of the power of the organic
over the artificial. "We make work that embraces multiple points
of view, inviting audience members to connect with the action onstage
on their own terms," Brater reflects on her expectations for the audience.
"We want to entertain and we want to encourage individual thought.
The company was mindful of these principles throughout the development
process."

The collaborative design and
development of "A Thousand, Thousand Slimy Things" mirror
the story's reminder that we humans are not lone inhabitants of this planet,
and conservation, if it is to be successful, must be a cooperative effort.
The most overt line of the play reads "our thinking is human centric
because if we're gone, who cares?" This shocking sentiment
is a direct quotation lifted from the company's interview with Taro
Takahashi, a geo-chemist the company interviewed at the Lamont-Doherty Earth
Observatory. One can consider this two ways: an acid-tongued reprimand
about the destructive nature of man's human-centric thinking, but
also a caution that our planet's fate is our responsibility.

The ending of the play is haunting
and ambiguous. The true hero of the story is the sea itself with
man as both protagonist and antagonist. The play acknowledges
our fear of change but commands us not be immobilized by it. Change
- in the evolution of our race as in the evolution of our planet -
may be inevitable, but we have the ability to ensure change does not
result in catastrophe.

"A Thousand, Thousand Slimy
Things" runs every Friday through Sunday at 7PM until May 9.
Tickets are $18 and available through
SmartTix.