Performed in a confined sunken area of a subterranean East Village night club, The Catastrophe Club encourages members of the audience to buy specialty cocktails before it begins. They’re close to one another on banquettes and to the five performers. The play is enacted nearby and in various locations while they’re in view. It’s all very immersive and atmospheric.
Playwright Devin Burnam’s intriguing science fiction scenario takes place 500 years in the future. We learn of “The Great Flood” and “Freeze.” These apocalyptic events took place in the early 21st century. There were survivors, and an authoritarian society developed with many lifestyle restrictions. “Reconfiguration” is the erasing of memories of the dead, music is prohibited, and sex is nonexistent Such factoids are related by the renegade scientist Ruth who is the play’s Our Town-style stage manager-type narrator.
From ancient smart phone videos, a time capsule box and computer programming, Ruth has recreated four New Yorker friends at the bar we’re at. She stops and starts the action and The Catastrophe Club switches between Ruth’s declarations and the interactions of four Chekhovian characters.
One is a male standup comedian who was fired from a tech firm by its newly wealthy male owner. There are also two women, one of whom is awaiting the results of a medical diagnosis. There’s a lot of banter, soul searching, drinking, snorting of cocaine, and concern over the reality of an impending climatic disaster. The tycoon has recently bought a rural compound as a refuge.
Mr. Burnam’s futuristic conceit is engrossing and the theme of a repressed figure looking back at a more joyous way of life is potent. The present day portions are amiable but only fitfully compelling, so The Catastrophe Club doesn’t quite fulfill its striking premise. Reaching a polished and wistful conclusion, and with its site-specific presentation, it sustains its 90 minute length with interest.
The serene Rachel Towne makes for an ideal Ruth with her warm presence and soothing vocal delivery. Dan Kublick, Cassandra Nwokah, Stewart Walker and Sue Kim all deliver appealing and animated performances as the four friends.
Director Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy mines the piece’s humor, intensity and suspense through his energetic staging. With artful simplicity, lighting designer Guy de Lancey achieves a desired clinical dimension. Tye Hunt Fitzgerald’s sound design renders the subtle effects and Burnam’s and Christopher Domig’s eerie original music with force.
The Catastrophe Club is a literate and provocative theatrical work uniquely presented.
The Catastrophe Club (through November 22, 2019)
Sea Dog Theater
A Lower East side venue to be disclosed, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.thecatastropheclub.com
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission