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Robert Viagas is in 2071

2071 by Duncan MacMillan and Chris Rapley

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

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There’s a lot of talk about the upcoming 2020 presidential elections, and sometimes those in 2024 as well.

But America as a culture—once upon a time enthusiastic about the future—now rarely collectively thinks about or plans for what our world will or should or could be like in the late 2020s, let alone the 2030s or 2040s, where many of us, our children and our grandchildren will be living. Perhaps it has become too scary to contemplate.

It takes an author from Great Britain, Chris Rapley, to jolt us into thinking hard about that future in his theatrical monologue 2071. And it is indeed scary. Human activity, especially the burning of coal, oil and other carbon-based fuels, is driving up the temperature of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere in ways that are already being felt, and which, if not checked, will create flooding and violent weather in the decades and centuries to come. Rapley, as impersonated Off-Off-Broadway by actor Robert Meksin, asks us to contemplate that future anyway, so that perhaps, if we wake up and act wisely, it won’t be quite so scary in the end.

Presented successfully in London in 2014, and now hosted in it U.S. premiere by the environmentalist theatre group Ripple Effect Artists, the 90-minute solo show tells a compelling story, though it is weighted down with statistics. The word “percent” makes up a way-too-hefty “percentage” of the script. Rather than focus on the real-life impact of these changes—that global warming will raise sea level to the point that the 29thStreet location of the theatre could soon become waterfront property, or that our most productive farmlands could turn into desert, or that summertime temperatures in New York could regularly bake in the 110s—the script harps on the fact that average global temperatures could rise one to three degrees—which makes it sound to the layman’s ear like no big problem (though it certainly is).

Not helping is Meksin’s schoolmarm-ish delivery that robs this drama of its drama. The bottom line is that humanity is indeed very quickly running out of time to return the planet to normal weather patterns, and that radical changes in the way we generate energy and grow our food will be required—immediately—if we want to bequeath a better world to the people of 2071 and beyond. That’s the story 2071 wanted to tell in a theatrical way, but lost in its dry, symposium-like format.

Directed by Carin Zakes, 2071 is playing a limited run through August 11 at the Episcopal Actors Guild at 1 East 29thStreet in Manhattan.

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