DramaFeaturedFringe & FestivalsIce Factory FestivalNew YorkOff-BroadwayReview

The Anthropologists Save the World – New Ohio Theatre, New York

Writers: Melissa Moschitto & the Ensemble

Director: Melissa Moschitto

Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell

As the audience files in for The Anthropologists Save the World at the New Ohio Theatre’s ICE Factory Festival, they are stopped by earnest souls with clipboards asking, Do you have a minute to answer some questions about the environment? Caught off-guard and without earbuds, most people agree to the survey. The questions focus on diet: Do you eat meat? Would you eat your pet? Do you fantasize about eating meat? This survey sets the tone for the evening, a triptych of short plays focusing on sustainability and climate change.

The show starts with The Lecture, which at its outset appears to be just that—a lecture about human impact on the environment, and by Aldous Huxley no less (though the actor playing Huxley was not listed in the program or promotional materials). A few minutes into the lecture, three people wander onto the stage looking for their weekly smoking cessation group. This is how we meet yoga instructor Karma (Michael Ables), high-powered executive Edna (Jean Goto), and college student Linden (Marianne Hardart). They’re surprised to find that their group leader Sue has been replaced with the author of Brave New World. Eventually the group’s perennial latecomer, online poker player Jeff (Mark Cisneros) arrives and they all try to carry on their regular meeting over Huxley’s lecture. Without Sue’s guidance, they devolve into a slo-mo fight over a cigarette, which Huxley eventually takes from them and smokes himself.

The second play, The Blackout, centers on a group of New Yorkers dealing with a failure of the electrical grid. Doomsday prepper and sustainability guru Oscar (Brian Demar Jones) is working to power a generator by pedaling a stationary bike, while his wife Marion (Mariah Freda) is gestating their “super eco-baby” and blogger Crocker (Arisael Rivera) is looking to redefine media presence in the face of crisis. Graduate student Edda (Brianna Kalisch) just wants to go home to Iceland. Ashley (Alexandra Bonesho), an intern from the Mayor’s office, shows up to serve them with a citation for violating building codes and we learn that the situation outside is not as dire as Oscar leads us to believe. The final offering of the night, The Robot, has the ensemble interacting with artificial intelligence and contemplating how to confront human impact on the environment. 

Sadly, there’s not much to recommend this show. The subject matter is timely, but not only do The Anthropologists not have much that’s new to say about climate change or dependence on technology, they don’t say the old stuff (which is still worth discussing) very well. In The Lecture and The Blackout, characters are stereotypes and not much else—the hippie yoga teacher, the wacky performance artist, the stressed out executive—none of them has any humanity. Every actors’ energy starts at full volume and they keep trying to turn it up to eleven. The Robot was the strongest offering. It made some familiar arguments about our reliance on technology and its impact on the environment, but did so with more nuance and creativity than the earlier plays. Unfortunately, the sustained fever pitch of the first two plays is so exhausting that it’s hard to really focus on what’s happening in the strongest work of the night.

Though its heart is in the right place, The Anthropologists Save the World lacks elegance and nuance in its execution. It feels much longer than 90 minutes. There’s some great work in the ICE Factory Festival, but this is one to skip.

Runs until 29 July 2017

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Unfocused & Poorly Executed

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