Bas Bleu Delivers An Alarming Reminder Of The Six Inches Of Soil Beneath Us
Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 15, 2018
Wendy Ishii, founding artistic director of Bas Bleu theatre, acknowledges that she is a risk taker. Creating a theatre company in Fort Collins was one. She took another risk (or challenge) several months ago in her living room after viewing a documentary film “Symphony of the Soil” in the company of Colorado author, Laura Pritchett. The two exchanged ideas and came upon the possibility of Pritchett writing a play about the soil – “Dirt.” Pritchett is a successful writer, publishing five novels and two works of non-fiction. She had not (yet) written a play.
The idea was “planted” and fertile soil appeared in the form of a commission by Bas Bleu to turn Pritchett’s ideas about soil science and planet concerns into a full-length play. The world premiere of “Dirt. A Terra Nova Expedition” opened April 5, 2018, at Bas Bleu, and continues its local run through May 6.
The result provides fascinating and frightening observations concerning the future of life on our planet. At the beginning of “Dirt,” we are introduced to Estella and Leo (played by Tabitha Tyree and Jacob Richardson) living in an underground bunker beneath the surface of Fort Collins 20 years in the future. Life above ground is disappearing, and the young couple has reserved enough provisions to live for only a few months. Estella is pregnant, and due to have her baby soon. They spend their days observing scientific data, reviewing global histories, and are now writing a play about their lives beneath the ground. Leo takes the role of sacrificing his own life for the benefit of others by leaving enough provisions for Estella to survive beneath the surface until the baby is born.
He instructs Stella to remain in the underground bunker until time for the child to be born, at which time she must climb the ladder to escape with the hope that the planet’s ecological system will have been successful modified. Leo reminds Stella of the sacrifice that explorer Robert Scott made for men in his charge on an expedition to Antarctica in 1912, and he climbs up the ladder to face the hostile world by himself.
The pregnant Estella is left alone in the bunker. She continues writing the play that she and Leo had discussed. She becomes immersed in scientific studies, alarmed at what has happened to the soil, and pained by results of perceived global warning. Her mind is beginning to unravel to the point that she does not clearly understand what is happening to her. She conjures up memories of the past, including instructions her professor father gave to her. She muses over the “mentors” that have been around for centuries to help scientists and artists “create.” She gives thought to the philosophy that we “truly do not realize all that we do not know.”
Her mental wanderings introduce her to scientists, medical personnel, philosophers and eventually to Persephone, the Greek goddess of harvest and fertility, who arrives to help Estella at the time of childbirth. The play’s voice sounds alarms about what we need to do in order to save our own existence. Action of the plot takes place just 20 years in the future giving, the reminder that time is running out.
Jennifer Bray, Kevin Coldiron, and Maya Jairam, playing multiple roles in and out of Estella’s mind, join Tyree and Richardson on stage. Myths of past philosophies and isms are produced in dance, as are the appearance of scientific Nematodes (roundworms). Aleah Black, Francis Lister, and Holly Wedgeworth are the musical dancers who are sometimes enchanting, sometimes spookily reminiscent to the ghoulish “walking dead,
The show’s director, Jeffrey Bigger, writes in the show’s program, “I will be forever changed by what I have learned working on this show. Coming to the realization that there are just six inches between life and death was a very cathartic moment.”
Playwright Pritchett grew up on a small ranch in northern Colorado. She received her BA and MA in English a Colorado State University, and has a PhD in English from Purdue University. Her writings have garnered many awards, with subject matter focusing on ecology, conservation, climate change, and social justice issue.
“Dirt, a Terra Nova Expedition”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre
401 Pine Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524
When: Through May 6, 2018
For more information: www.basbleu.org