By Devin Burnam; Directed by Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy
Produced by Sea Dog Theater
Off Off Broadway, Site-Specific Play
Runs through 11.20.19
Secret location near Bleecker and Lafayette Streets
by Asya Gorovits on 11.21.19
Clockwise from left: Cassandra Nwokah, Sue Kim, Stewart Walker, and Dan Kublick in The Catastrophe Club. Photo by Jeremy Varne.
BOTTOM LINE: This site-specific, post-apocalyptic play is a secret gathering at a bar in an attempt to figure out where humanity went wrong.
The exact address of the undisclosed location is sent to the attendees of The Catastrophe Club on the day of the event. See, it's the year 2520, and public gatherings are outlawed, hence the secrecy. We are seated around the room in an underground bar and our host, scientist/programmer Ruth (Rachel Towne), invites us to travel back in time to approximately 2015-2025 with the help of four Sims. Ruth created Zizzie (Cassandra Nwokah), Teres (Sue Kim), Anders (Stewart Walker) and Emime (Dan Kublick) from a time capsule, made by these four friends and climate scientists while hanging out in a bar one evening trying to figure out how to save the world and comfort each other. They sarcastically called it “The Catastrophe Club” while a glimmer of hope still remained.
Spoiler alert, they didn’t quite succeed in saving civilization. The Great Flood and Freeze that happened somewhere between 2015 and 2025 Common Era destroyed the majority of the Earth's population. Relying on her modern technology and objects from the time capsule, Ruth tries to understand what it meant to be a human in “Year One to Year Ten,” and perhaps get closer to understanding her own heritage. In between stopping and resuming the reconstructed scene, the head of our little gathering shares information about her current world of strict order and total surveillance; in 2520, it looks like a catastrophe of a different sort might be on its way. So how do we preserve our emotion-rich, communal, conflicting “human nature” and save the planet from fatal climate change? This is the main question that author Devin Burnam poses.
The Catastrophe Club feels a little lingering towards the end but overall it is quite enjoyable, mostly for the charismatic characters of “the past” performed with vigor by four wonderful actors. As Emime, the comic-relief, Kublick is especially memorable in his stand-up comedy routines, clarinet playing, and acrobatics on the bar floor. In this intimate, site-specific setting, every tiny movement and intonation are on display and it’s really difficult to hide a lie or get away with overly theatrical gestures. The cast, directed by Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy, still seem to be perfecting this delicate balance, but ultimately they are on the right path.
The Catastrophe Club is site-specific, but only to a point. True, the action happens throughout the bar, and is sometimes obstructed by the architecture of the space, or else by the gaps in Ruth’s data about the evening. And via its emails, The Catastrophe Club succeeds in creating an atmosphere of adventure and conspiracy even before the audience enters the theater. But I wish this atmosphere had stretched beyond knocking three times on an unmarked door. Inside the bar two themed cocktails—“Near Death Experiences” and “Devastating Newses”—are available, but nothing else reminds us where we are and why we are here. There are many missed opportunities to make the whole experience even more immersive, from check-in to the pre-show. In its current run, The Catastrophe Club is a play performed in a bar, but it has the potential to be much more. If only the creators could borrow some of the courage, inventiveness, and genuine care for fellow humans from their characters.
(The Catastrophe Club played at a secret location near Bleecker Street and Lafayette Street, through November 22, 2019. The running time was 90 minutes with no intermission. Performances were Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7. Tickets were $30. For more information visit thecatastropheclub.com.)
The Catastrophe Club is by Devin Burnam. Directed by Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy. Produced by Sea Dog Theater, Janelle Garcia Domig and Christopher Domig. Sound Design by Tye Hunt Fitzgerald. Original Music by Devin Burnam and Christopher Domig. Stage Manager is Whitney Bahr.
The cast is Cassandra Nwokah, Sue Kim, Stewart Walker, Dan Kublick, and Rachel Towne.