Manhattan Theatre Club
MTC at New York City Center
The Studio at Stage II
130 West 56th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 9, $69-$90
At one point in Bess Wohl’s fiendishly clever Continuity, the Manhattan Theatre Club world premiere that opened last night at Stage II at City Center, the stage is empty for several minutes. The set, designed by Adam Rigg, is anchored by a white styrofoam ice floe with a wall of ice in the back, leaning ominously forward. It’s an uncomfortably funny moment, the barenness a warning of what just might happen if the world keeps on its current pace, because the play is as much about narrative continuity as the continuity of humanity itself. The show within a show is about global warming, as in real life politicians, scientists, environmentalists, artists, and lay people fiercely disagree on what to do about climate change and whether it’s already too late; the deserted stage predicts a time in the not-too-distant future when living beings no longer exist on our doomed planet. But Wohl and director Rachel Chavkin, who previously collaborated on the smash hit Small Mouth Sounds, are not just preaching to the choir or spewing grandiose melodramatic rhetoric. Continuity is a sublime one-hundred-minute journey into the glorious stupidity of humanity as it faces its possible demise.
A film crew is in the New Mexico desert making an ecological disaster epic. Director Maria (Rosal Colón), a Sundance Award–winning indie filmmaker, is helming her first studio picture, not wanting to screw up her big break, while needy Hollywood star Nicole (Megan Ketch), who is playing environmentalist Eve, is having some issues, creating maddening delays for the crew and her fellow actors, the good-looking Jake (Alex Hurt), who is playing George, an ecoterrorist, and earnest, underutilized Anna (Jasmine Batchelor), who portrays Lily, a climatologist who has been captured by a gun-wielding George. “The time for science is over,” the Keanu Reeves–like hunk declares. “It’s time for action.” When screenwriter David Caxton (Darren Goldstein) arrives unexpectedly, Maria worries that the studio has sent him to keep an eye on her. Soon Larry (Max Baker), the crotchety science adviser, is questioning plot points that will wreak havoc on the film’s narrative and drain the story of its special-effects-laden promises. Through it all, the loyal PA (Garcia) does whatever is asked of him, no matter how patently absurd.
Continuity was partly inspired by Wohl’s experience writing the cancer movie Irreplaceable You, so the film shoot feels authentic. The title of the play comes not only from the technical term for maintaining consistent details in a movie but also from the idea of uninterrupted existence, which is in global danger because of climate change. Wohl (Barcelona, American Hero) explores carbon neutrality, recycling, hypocrisy, science, capitalism, and other concepts as she litters the dialogue with such silly puns and wonderfully chosen phrases as “Stop shifting the ground under my feet,” “Water under the bridge,” and “The pace is glacial.” She and Chavkin (Hadestown, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) also probe race, gender, the #MeToo movement, and sexual orientation as Maria’s attempt to finish the scene before it gets dark mimics humankind’s not-so-concerted effort to save the Earth. “Please take care of our iceberg,” the offstage first assistant director tells everyone about a prop that people keep ruining, as if reminding all of us of the tenuousness of our situation. Lily and Jake watch a video on his phone of a monkey doing something amazing, as if evolution is being turned around. David is giving himself a fake tan, like a natural one is out of the question. It’s no coincidence that Maria won an award at Sundance, both because of the name of the festival itself as well as its relationship with seminal environmentalist Robert Redford. The stage production is doing what it can to not leave its own carbon footprint, reusing plastic bottles and other props and recycling cut-up paper into falling snow. Wohl calls Continuity “a play in six takes,” but we don’t have that many chances left to get it right.