If you’re wondering what the original Broken Planetarium musical Live! Benefits! Live! has to offer, you might want to ask a more specific question: what doesn’t it have to offer?
Together, playwright-actress-songwriter Laura Christina Dunn and her fellow cast members prove there’s no need for fancy theater, extravagant props or designer costumes. When you own their talent and passion, any production can be a masterpiece.
Based on the myth of the ancient Greek prophet Cassander, Live! Benefits! Live! uses COVID-19 to spark an overdue conversation about climate change and domestic violence. The piece invites us to consider at least one benefit of the pandemic (that it has brought collective attention to the impact humans are having on their environment), while also acknowledging that the oft-used phrase “safer at home” was not a reality for those who are locked in quarantine with their abusers.
Live! Prophets! Live! (directed by Corinne Gaucher) stars Hannah Edelson as a modern-day Cassandra who awakens to find herself in a kind of underworld, called End of the Roadhouse. She studied the mass disappearance of tree frogs in Florida, but drowned while collecting data on sinking land.
Cassandra finds herself in the company of real-life icons like Joan of Arc (Leina Naversen), Octavia Butler (Natasha Kotey) and Li Qingzhao (Emma Chang) – all disbelieving women, fired and punished for fighting the status quo. . There’s also the play’s narrator, Hildegard von Bingen (Mikki Jordan), who wears the clothes of a nun, but transcends established definitions of words like “wholesome,” “holy,” and “pure.”
Through Live! Prophets! Live!, Cassandra debates whether to leave End of the Roadhouse or stay, a decision only made when each character shares their own story through song. Their experiences raise serious questions: How do we heal the planet? How can we heal ourselves? – but the game is still fun and engaging.
Live! Prophets! Live! tackles the tough with acting, singing, comedy, choreographed group dances and live musical instruments, including guitar, keyboard and banjo (music is by Dunn, Trinh Youngman , Natasha Kotey, Red Yarn, Emilie Landmann, Ali Ippolito, Kristin Gordon George, Julia Babcock, Monica Metzler and Leina Naversen).
As a result, watching the show feels like attending an intimate cabaret. Its country character is a joy to behold, but there’s a point to the juxtaposition of playful delivery and important themes: to remind us that we can care for our planet and its people while enjoying our lives (Cassandra points out that “if we can break the world, think of how we can shape it”).
As Cassandra struggles to decide whether to return, she recalls a time when her mother “stopped trying to make life better”. Maybe that’s why Live! Prophets! Live! suggests that saving the world might require us to rein in and temper ourselves, much like Dunn (who is the artistic director of the Broken Planetarium) uses wit and music to temper impending threats of abuse and environmental apocalypse.
Live! Prophets! Live! ultimately asks us to recognize that people will always need each other and that everything is connected in some way. We are asked to “look at the shadows we pretend not to see”, while remaining both strong and tender, an invitation to deeper reflection amid wonderful entertainment.
SEE : Live! Prophets! Live! performs at the Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., 971-808-3331, Brokenplanetarium.org. 2 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, until August 14. Tickets $15 – $25 sliding scale, Arts for All accepted at the door.