“If you are going to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they will kill you.” The playwrights George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde have both been credited with this saying. Difficult subjects often elicit hostility or, worse, boredom, so one must be sure to infuse the bitter truth with some nectar of humor so people can swallow it.
What’s one of the most sour facts Miamians recently have to digest? Sea level rise due to climate change. One hurricane like the fictitious Category 11 Hurricane Marco in Firemen Are Rarely Necessary could possibly submerge the city for good, as occurs at the end of the play.
In his dark spoof on corporate greed, climate change denial, and political corruption, local playwright Theo Reyna of the Mad Cat Theater Company used comedy to satiate the palates of audiences in Miami, who are confronted with the pressing issue of climate change and the disappointing, oppressive response from the government. Under Governor Rick Scott, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials have been banned from using the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports.
Noah Levine’s portrayal of The Governor “Sick Rot,” was a treat for audiences. His acting chops together with the playwright’s creative dialog brought a corrupt, pro-corporate, and power hungry character to life. Levine made the villain likable. Through humor, Reyna presented Miami audiences with a piece of the truth pie in a tasteful manner.
The play suggests that the damage of censorship is deadly since Category 11 Hurricane Marco inundates Miami in the end. It also has a feminist edge as the hero is a female scientist Dr. Mara Lowe-Cumbre played by Deborah L. Sherman. Her lively performance of the scientist shut down by the DEP for her findings on climate change was endearing and powerful.
The struggle between the scientist uncovering truths that require people to change and the corporate puppets trying to keep people spending their money in the dark was presented as an allegory through the antagonist and protagonist. Maha McCain as one corporate puppet was also hilarious and really captured the essence of most ego-driven corporate employees who blindly take orders from the top and who define people in terms of their job titles instead of their humanity. “You’re just an intern,” she tells the scientist who is working undercover at the DEP, and “I am just doing what I’m told.”
Unwarranted censorship from the powers that be is certainly a difficult concept for anyone to swallow, especially when the information that’s kept in the dark is crucial for the survival of one’s threatened habitat. Yet the information these leaders suppress is often challenging, filled with hard truths. Most politicians have no sense of humor, and most humans are creatures susceptible to denial, often preferring alternate facts to unpleasant ones, even when they’re drowning. Ever been blindly in love?
Dr. Martha Lowe Cumbre was in love with a younger actor, and he sells her out in the end, giving her research to the evil politician in exchange for a role. The intelligent yet fallible scientist displays a very human susceptibility to deception. Anyone can be fooled, even a brilliant scientist.
The governor’s troubling command to ban scientific terms from political discourse might keep people from unpleasant facts, but it’s not empowering them. Sometimes those in command get away with doing such things because the majority of people want to stay in the dark. Parents put their eyes over their children’s eyes to protect them from harsh realities. Ignorance might be bliss but knowledge is power.
Though the play explored the government’s censorship of scientific facts related to climate change, it failed to shed light on the main culprit–animal agriculture. Instead, the focus was on the toxic green algae blooms, just one small environmental problem in Florida. Maybe this is the funniest part of the entire play.
Meat is Drowning Miami, wrote Hannah Sentenac earlier this year in an article for the Miami New Times. In the piece, she alludes to Leonardo Di Caprio’s recent documentary Cowspiracy, which sheds light on the main causes of environmental destruction: cutting down rainforests to graze cattle, methane and CO2 emissions from cows, and water pollution from factory farms. Factory farming was just slightly referenced in the play, which was disappointing.
Might this lack of knowledge come from the fact that politicians deny climate change even exists. It’s possible. Yet, when the majority of people are not ready to accept that they have been fooled by corporations, banning certain words becomes doable. At one point in the play, Sick Rot asks, “Can we ban the word data?”
Most people are still not willing to accept that their eating habits are destroying the planet, not their method of transportation, which the play along with most environmental protection agencies suggest.
At the end of the play, before being eaten by a manatee, The Governor asks Dr. Lowe-Cumbre if she really thinks people would change their lifestyles (if they would stop driving cars) in order to prevent sea level rise. He suggests that the transport sector as many believe is the main culprit of ozone black holes. He also declares that there is no hope for humanity, while his counterpart expresses hope through the light of her findings. At the end, she remains standing on what is left of Florida, a few archipelago islands, and finds another woman scientist. Together they pledge to help her save the remaining land from further ruination. Some say the future is female, and the girl-power twist in the story is enlightening. Yet, the future is also vegan.
As they entered the theatre, audience members were given a survey asking them what is the best thing they can do to fight climate change. Adopting a plant-based diet is the best thing. We can’t expect politicians who are backed by greedy corporations to stand up and deliver, especially since most people are not willing to change their lifestyles in an environment that often promotes unhealthy choices. Change needs to start with individuals forcing corporations to evolve. It’s already happening. The dairy industry is plummeting as the options in plant-based milks increase. Delicious vegan restaurants are popping up all over town. People are waking up, but slowly.
‘Firemen’ brought attention to difficult subjects and through laughter gave people a method to cope, but without knowledge about the causes of environmental destruction, people will remain in the dark where there is no hope. And, the play warns about the dangers of doing so. If people continue to pay corporations to take from Mother Nature, destroying her and her creatures, she will inevitably avenge us.
Visit www.madcattheatre.org for more information.
Pics courtesy of Mad Cat Theatre Company.