By Holli Harms
We all know the story, remember the images of the birds, the gulls and pelicans, the turtles and other sea life covered in oil. We remember the oil spread across the Gulf of Mexico, a coating of slime and gunk destroying everything around it and beneath it, as the winds pushed it closer and closer to shore.
What we don’t recall is that 11 men died on the Deepwater Horizon Oil rig the day of the blowout, April 20, 2010. That part of the worst ecological disaster in the history of the world fell to the wayside as the days clicked away as BP scrambled to find a way to put a cap on the gusher unleashing millions of gallons of raw oil into the Gulf and our TV sets filled with images of the oil covered wildlife.
SPILL, written and directed by Leigh Fondakowski (author of THE LARAMIE PROJECT), tells the story of the 11 men and their families, the days leading up to the disaster and the 87 days after as BP scrambled to find a way to seal the well and stop the flow.
Fondakowski interviewed over 200 people on both sides of the issue; BP executives and oil rig family members. With those interviews, and documents from the various court proceedings following the blowout, she created SPILL and laid it out much like a documentary.
With documentaries we see the actual people being interviewed, we have the sights and sounds of the place, the span of a movie to pull us in. It is difficult to create such a piece on stage where there is no sense of place, just actors telling.
And we already know the story.
The first act is spent telling us about the 11 who died that day, what good men they were, how they lived the days before the rig exploded into the Gulf and changed life there for everyone. This goes on and on and on. There is no tension, no pressure on stage as the talk continues about the pressure and tension on the rig. Mistakes were made, costs were cut and BP in its greed brought this catastrophe on itself, this is not new information to us.
It is the second part of the evening, the aftermath of the explosion, where secrets are told and stories unfold that are new and touching,
One of the many characters reminds us that people die on rigs and that our gasoline, our way of life, comes at a cost. When we pull up to a gas pump she thinks that each pump should have the face of one of those men on it. We should know our addiction comes at a price. It is a powerful moment. Here there are several moments of power, of mindfulness.
Even President Obama has a moment on the stage.
We hear how the death of the 11 has ruined their families. How this accident divided a town. When President Obama says he is going to put a moratorium on offshore drilling the families are divided. Some agree with Obama but most in this small Texas town see their livelihood at stake. Oil drilling is their only means of good work and good money. Oil rigs are one of the last places where hard working men can still climb the ladder of success. No ceilings here. Hard work is rewarded.
Money and greed are front and center, as well as the Americans addiction to fossil fuel. BP is the corporate baddie paying off even the Coast Guard to try to keep the secrets of their cost cutting and sloppy cleanup attempts under wraps.
The ensemble is, simply put, wonderful. They cruise from character to character, moment to moment with clockwork precision.
At two hours and thirty minutes, including intermission, the play is long, but Fondakowski wants us to know everything about this incident: about the greed and carelessness that brought us to it and that in the knowing of this we will work harder to make corporations accountable for their actions and let them KNOW – we are watching. We are awake.
SPILL written and directed by Leigh Fondakowski
Featuring Michael Cullen*, Vince Gatton, Alex Grubbs*, Ronald Alexander Peet, Molly McAdoo, Maurice McRae, Kelli Simpkins, and Greg Steinbruner
Writer/Director: Leigh Fondakowski | Scenic Designer/Dramaturg: Sarah Lambert | Lighting Designer: Nick Francone* | Costume Designer: Suzanne Chesney* | Composer: Gary Grundei | Sound Designer: Lee Kinney | Projection Designer: David Bengali | Props Master: Claire Rufiange | Production Stage Manager: Carly Levin | Assistant Stage Manager: Sara Stevens At ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE Curt Dempster Theatre, 545 West 52nd Street, 2nd Floor (between 10th & 11th Aves) New York, NY 10019 Closes Sunday, Apr 2, 2017 7:00pm
* Denotes EST members