Chicago Theatre Review
Giving a Voice to Tragedy
Spill – TimeLine Theatre
More than simply a play about one of the most horrific oil rig explosions ever, that resulted in eleven lost lives, Leigh Fondakowski’s docudrama is based upon a collection of dozens of interviews with the real life individuals who were affected by this tragedy. The play doesn’t just dramatize the actual incident but it begins in the days prior to the Gulf of Mexico explosion. From there it builds, like a well-written thriller, to the April 20, 2010 disaster, and then continues throughout the days, weeks, months and years following the catastrophe. Constructed in much the same style as the playwright’s universally honored “The Laramie Project,” this play goes beyond the actual event that made international news. It gives a very human face and voice to the people who lost their lives, the loved ones they left behind, their coworkers who survived the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig disaster, as well as the men and women ultimately responsible for this unnecessary calamity. She succinctly dramatizes the stories and words of 30 Louisiana families, fishermen, environmental experts, cleanup workers, town officials and scholars—every one of them connected in some way to a tragedy that rocked the world. In writing this play, Ms. Fondakowski seeks to answer the question, “What is the true human and environmental cost of oil production?”
Directed by the playwright herself, Leigh Fondakowski has staged her drama in a gritty, gut-wrenching production that’s in your face and takes no prisoners. TimeLine’s usual mission to bring history to life seems even more vital, with the director staging her cast often only inches away from the audience. At times, her actors literally scale the heights, mounting high above in balconies and playing areas set all over the theatre. The director keeps her company in continual motion, with each of her nine top-notch actors portraying multiple characters. Ms. Fondakowski understands the power of her play and she knows how to effectively direct and redirect the theatergoers’ focus within a split second. Her technical team unite their talents beautifully to create an artistic environment of sight and sound to support this story. Sarah Lambert’s astonishing collapsable and reconstructable scenic design, lit with emotion and finesse by Betsy Adams, enhanced by Mike Tutaj’s superbly created moving projections and colored in a deafening soundscape by Andre Pluess, all blend together to make this story live.
This talented ensemble deserves the highest praise. Every single actor brings his passion and expertise in creating character after character. Kelli Simpkins, a frequent collaborator with Leigh Fondakowski, serves as narrator for this eloquent piece of theatre. She’s sensational as she effortlessly morphs into several other characters by simply shedding a jacket or adding a pair of glasses, turning into characters like fisherman Jorey Danos and bereaved mother Arleen Weise, among others. Justine Turner is superb and honest as widow Shelley Anderson, so devastating in her simplicity and grief, as well as a commanding artist, Lillian Espinosa-Gala. The transition between these characters happens on a dime, and each is three-dimensional and fully fleshed out. Justin James Farley is wonderful in so many roles, among them Byron Encalade and Wayne Keller. Chris Rickett beautifully plays explosion victim Jason Anderson and David Prete plays his grieving father, Bill, along with an exquisitely portrayed, beleaguered head of BP, Tony Hayward, and others. Christopher Sheard, Tim Decker and Caren Blackmore are all equally excellent playing a variety of roles, while Craig Spidle brings a homey charm and authority to both Bob Bea and Randy Ezell. A great deal of credit for the creation of so many characters must also go to the work by Dialect Coach, Eva Breneman.
There’s so much to recommend in this thrilling, moving and educational production, from the story it tells to the high-tech, professional support which enables audiences to feel this tragedy firsthand. Terrific, award-deserving ensemble work, orchestrated by a topnotch director and playwright, all come together in another gorgeous, heartfelt, historically based drama by one of Chicago’s most incredible and highly respected theatre companies. This is an absolute must-see production.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 24-December 19 by the TimeLine Theatre Company at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-327-5252 or by visiting their website at www.timelinetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com