By Holli Harms
I went to the theatre the other night NOT as a reviewer. I went to see a show that sounded interesting, based on a “Monarch,” his family and their life on top of a 60-foot long aircraft platform.
Five minutes into the show I was scrambling for pen and paper, careful of course not to disturb my fellow audience members. I was seeing something fabulous that I wanted to pass on and share. I was witnessing a terrific play told as good as the real-life incredible story it’s based on.
In the 1960s, retired British WWII Army Major Paddy Roy Bates, along with his wife and two children, climbed on top of an aircraft platform twelve miles off the coast of England and declared it the country of Sealand. His wife crowned the Queen of the new country and their children heirs to the Sealand throne.
Building a world is difficult unless you are a god. Building a nation, a country is just as difficult unless let’s say, you are a dreamer, an innovator tired of the status quo, tired of a world with its wars and incompetent leaders. You know you can do better. Yours will be a sovereign state, ruled with equality, justice, democracy, and care. A government far different than all the others, a new “land” with an administration that is fair and open and takes into account all of its citizens, staying far away from the trappings of power, greed, fear, and anger.
In Barbara Hammond’s world premiere play, Terra Firma, she has built her nation in undetermined waters with absolutely nothing nearby, only other platforms. Far out at sea there roosts Roy (Gerardo Rodriguez) and his wife, the Queen of Terra Nova ( Andrus Nichols), their children Rose and Teddy, and their one and only Citizen, played by the inimitable John Keating, because without a citizen to rule over, whether you have 60 square feet or 600,000 square feet of land, you are not a true country.
The play opens with Citizen and Roy interrogating an intruder they believe to be a spy. Hostage (Tom O’Keefe) was fishing not far off of Terra Firma when they snatched him out of the water, tied him up and now are demanding answers as to who sent him and why.
Citizen, who is also the law enforcement officer, builder, and the single person that the monarchy governs, has been placing messages of HELP in bottles and tossing them to the sea.
It seems the kingdom is in trouble in more ways than one.
It appears that all life outside of Terra Firma is becoming extinct. Explosions have become more common on some of the other platforms. Prince Teddy (Daniel Molina) has been sent to procure needed supplies as there is only limited food and water remaining.
Extinction on Terra Firma is also eminent if they cannot procreate. The Queen, played with pointed hilarity and poignant desperation by Andrus Nichols, is past childbearing years and there are no other women in the country as Rose took a boat and left and has yet to return. Maybe her son Prince Teddy will return not only with provisions but also possibly with a young woman to expand the citizenry. A lot rests on Teddy’s return.
Through her adroit script, Hammond tackles the controversies of immigration, power, a nation’s humility and responsibility to its citizens, and to the greater good of the country and its place in the world. The isolation of time spent on Terra Firma has taken a toll on these already delusional individuals. There appears to be an inevitable end to their existence and their nation. Time is running out with the tide.
Shana Cooper’s directing is a sleight of hand that never pushes but allows the actors to flow with the waters around them. She uses the 60-feet of stage to its fullest. Despite the depth of the subject matter, the play is far from dark and foreboding. On the contrary, the skilled ensemble with it’s Lecoq clown precision, especially the nimble T. Ryder Smith as The Diplomat, and the witty and cleverly funny dialogue make this a boisterous game at times, splashing through the ideas of need for community and why we are compelled to live among like-minded individuals. It also brings to mind our founding fathers and what they were up against, what any new country is up against when it has decided to become its own civilization. I started to think it does take a little bit of “crazy” to resolve to become a nation with laws, anthems, and constitutions to create.
You will walk out of the play looking at the world and its nations with a new perspective. Appreciative of those who are that little bit crazy to create new countries.
Terra Firma is brought to us by the newly formed company The Coop. I look forward to what this new kid on the block will bring to the table next.
Terra Firma Written by Barbara Hammond, Directed by Shana Cooper
With: John Keating, Daniel Molina, Andrus Nichols, Tom O’Keefe, Gerardo Rodriguez, T. Ryder Smith, and understudy Mark Bedard
Production: Scenic Design by Andrew Boyce, Costume Design by Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene,
Lighting Design by Eric Southern, Sound Design by Jane Shaw, Properties Design bu Violeta Picayo, Fight Choreography Carman Lacivita
Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Avenue.
Tickets in Person – Sat Noon to 6 pm or 2 hours prior to performance Tickets-Online HERE
Running time: 90 minutes no intermission.