Review: ‘This Flat Earth’ Evokes Strong Emotions On Gun Control
By Megan Wrappe, Contributing Writer, April 10, 2018
Playwrights Horizons newest production, This Flat Earth, written by Lindsey Ferrentino and directed by Rebecca Taichman, tells the story of Julie (Ella Kennedy Davis) who recently experienced a shooting episode at her middle school, with her friend Zander (Ian Saint-Germain). The two students hide in a closet while 15 of their classmates, including their acquaintance Noelle, are randomly shot and killed. The school has been closed for a month to allow the students and teachers time to try to heal, both mentally and emotionally, but for Julie, every sound is another potential shooting.
“Are you there?! ARE YOU THERE?!” she screams at her father, Dan, (Lucas Papaelias) in the opening scene. He rushes into her bedroom where Julie is noticeably shaken up as a thunderstorm rolls outside and an upstairs neighbor (Lynda Gravátt) plays classical music albums. “What’s that?,” Julie asks. “Thunder,” her father replies. “And that,” she asks again. “A plane flying overhead,” her father says. “And that,” she asks again. “A truck driving by.” Everything scares her, reminding her of the shooting she’s witnessed. While we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the aftermath and coverage on the news of the numerous shootings having occurred over the last few years, through the drama of theater, this play brings the experience into a very up-close and personal perspective.
Besides being shaken by noise, Julie also feels guilty for having bought some of Noelle’s clothes at Goodwill a few months ago, especially now that Noelle is gone. While she still likes the clothes, it seems strange to be wearing items of someone who is no longer alive. And when Noelle’s mother (Cassie Beck) arrives carrying boxes of Noelle’s belongings which she can’t deal with having in her own home, Julie is forced to face another reminder of the shooting yet again.
With Julie and Zander being in middle school, it makes the the idea of the shooting even more challenging with which to cope. Julie, unaware that such shootings have happened elsewhere, asks “How many other times? Five? Ten? Fifteen?” As her father shakes his head, she emotionally replies “then I’m not going back to school until the adults figure out how to fix this.” This seemed particularly poignant given the recent March For Our Lives and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s #NeverAgain movement. With the play having been written prior to the recent shooting at MSD this past Valentine’s Day, many of Julie’s and Zander’s responses come across as eerie foreshadowing, simply mirroring what we see on the nightly news.
The play’s portrayal of grief was one of the most realistic representations I have seen onstage, with a good balance of confronting politically-themed topics and their related emotions. While never feeling overly political or overly dramatic, the play is the perfect amalgamation of our current news agenda through a humanistic lens. There were moments when I could hear audience members audibly crying, but there were also moments when we all laughed. That seems to be what is needed more than ever right now. This production shows how through the power of theater contemporary issues can be looked at, discussed, and potentially effect change, thereby allowing society to move forward in its evolutionary journey.
This Flat Earth at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, running through April 29, 2018. Written by Lindsey Ferrentino. Directed by Rebecca Taichman; scenic design by Dane Laffrey; costume design by Paloma Young; lighting design by Christopher Akerlind; sound design by Mikhail Fiksel; music direction by Christian Frederickson; production stage manager: Cole P. Bonenberger; assistant stage manager Shane Schnetzler. Cast: Cassie Beck, Ella Kennedy Davis, Lynda Gravátt, Lucas Papaelias, Ian Saint-Germain, with cellist Christine H. Kim.
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Cover: (l. to r.) Ian Saint-German and Ella Kennedy Davis in ‘This Flat Earth;’ photo: Joan Marcus.