What havoc would the world endure if all fossil fuels disappeared overnight? What extraordinary chaos would each nation encounter? What would you do if you were thrown into darkness without electricity and power? For some people, these scenarios may seem far-fetched, extreme or an unworthy conversation for the stage. Jupiter (a play about power) begins to examine, through the course of a 200-year dialogue, what could occur as a result. It is through the haunting and beautifully delivered experience of Jupiter that possibility, along with responsibility, is born from awareness.
Written by Jeremy Pickard, Jupiter is a well-thought-out, cutting-edge play. Believability needs to be suspended for five minutes—the amount of time it takes to explain the science-fiction underpinning that the protagonist, Joe (Pickard), has the power to make fossil fuels disappear in a blink and then put himself in orbit, far from the madness about to ensue. And he uses it. His only link to the world below is 1950s-style radio that is used to communicate with a woman introduced as Humanity (Sarah Ellen Stephens).
Darkness envelops the world. Mobile phones are useless and communication trickles. Gangs rove around seeking food while friends and neighbors huddle together to stay warm or share what they have left. Bodies begin to litter the wayside. The larger question is, Why the need for this extreme? Humanity angrily expresses to Joe that treaties and accords had been reached, partnerships created and world leaders have begun to understand the need to work together to save the planet. Joe’s reply—it’s too late. For every step mankind can take, he has played out each scenario to its fullest, and not one will make a difference. Only a complete reboot will put mankind on a course correction.
For 200 years Joe and Humanity quarrel, debate, discuss and agree to disagree. The loneliness in orbit begins to affect Joe, and even the robot he built for companionship is not enough. The world and its remaining inhabitants transition ever so slowly out of the period of intense darkness and anarchy. The piece suggests that maybe there is hope.
The situation of the play was inspired by the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa; it caused a “volcanic winter” that led to famine and disease. Although the disruption in Jupiter is manmade, the results would be similar.
Credited as co-creators along with writer Pickard are Jonathan Camuzeaux, Lani Fu, Megan McClain and Simón Adinia Hanukai, who directs the piece. Fueled by global concerns about the environment, they are part of the eco-theater company Superhero Clubhouse, “a collective of artists and scientists” working to create “original performances via a collaborative, green and rigorous process,” according to its website. (Camuzeaux and Hanukai’s Kaimera Productions is a co-producer).
Composer Camuzeaux, who emigrated to the U.S. in 2009, creates haunting music using a rare stringed instrument called a sazouki; he also delivers a telling narration early in the performance and later portrays the robot Cowboy. Hanukai, who is originally from Azerbaijan, splits his time between New York and Paris. His rich and diverse background in dance, theater and education shows in the movement, layout and character development.
It is clear that they not only embody a worldview but also deliver it with extraordinary purpose and aplomb. Pickard’s script is powerful and concise, and he creates a character with the halting manner of Rod Serling. The play/performance progresses with such deference to the experience of the audience that the focused collaboration produces its intent boldly and with great detail.
Stephens, who carries a large share of the acting responsibility, brings all the nuance of mankind together as Humanity. While Pickard created a way of being for Joe that is consistent, the actress moves through a palette of emotions. She brought conviction and intensity to her part.
So committed were the collaborators of Jupiter to bringing a greater awareness to the issue of global energy beyond the play that the creative team secured a grant to attach solar panels to the theater. While not always enough power for an entire performance, there is a television monitor above the stage letting the audience know how much energy is used in kilowatt hours and the grams of carbon dioxide required. Additionally, after each performance is a panel discussion with the cast and a guest for those who would like to hear more. Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, climatologist, and co-founder of the award-winning climate science blog RealClimate, was on hand to answer questions.
The deeply moving Jupiter delivers its message in an insightful and powerful evening, and beyond.
Jupiter (a play about power) will be presented at La Mama Theatre Club (74a East 4th St.) through Feb. 28. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday-Saturday, with matinees at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 212-475-7710 or through OvationTix at 866-811-4111.