In Atlantis's rich and layered underwater dystopia, The Broken Planetarium steps back from the alarming soundbites of environmental scientists and asks: "How will we cope?"
In the near future, climate change has submerged the island of Manhattan, except the penthouse floors of skyscrapers. Sophisticated city-goers grow gills and spend most their time silent below the waves, adapting to submarine life. They're held hostage by a government that is profiting off environmental collapse.
The hold-outs from aquatic living are folkies from old Washington Square. They hold clandestine music meet-ups on the top floors of buildings where they play earnest and damning protest songs accompanied by acoustic guitars, banjos and even a charango. But as the play goes on, sea levels continue to rise and the resistance loses ground.
Serena (Natasha Kotey), is new to town and on a quest to find herself. She belts out many of the stirring musical scenes with a voice similar to Corinne Bailey Rae. Serena sings many duets with Jack (Kevin Martin), the older leader of the folkies who carries a torch for her. But their voices bare such a striking difference, it makes their chemistry seem questionable. When Jack falls into illness, it doesn't have enough tension around the build up and response for an emotional chord to hit home with the audience.
Laura Christina Dunn's script is for the most part fast-paced and witty, with lines like "Dolphins are the new assholes."
One of the more stunning elements is the choreography of fish: Three people dressed in metallic costumes flick and switch in sync. They swarm, stop and seem to float on the current just in front of the stage, giving a layer and depth to the seascape.
The backup band made up of Kyle Huth, Charlie Andrews and John Bruner provide a real polish to Dunn's sophisticated folk pieces. One of the best numbers in the show comes from Sofia May-Cuxim's gospel-tinted "Hymn for the End of the World."
The tapestry of bohemian personalities is real, and their dialogue sounds like close conversations that begin with critiques of Marxism and end in the early morning wondering if Goofy is a dog or a wolf.
Fertile Ground runs until Jan. 29. For the full schedule, go to fertilegroundpdx.org. $50 festival passes, individual tickets available.