Monday, March 7, 2022

Weekly Margin 2022, W11: Coal Country

3/04/22: Coal Country
What: Audible Theater and Cherry Lane Theatre host an encore run of Jessica Blank, Erik Jensen, and Steve Earle's new docuplay with music about the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia and its aftermath.
And? I'm divided on how to react, because my initial criticism is that this is awkwardly staged. But then I have to remind myself that they originally staged it at The Public, then restaged at Cherry Lane, which has notoriously challenging stage access points for actor entrances and exits (to say nothing of the fact that the performance I saw was their first in the new space). But ultimately I do still think anything involving the whole ensemble is visually clunky, even as the various monologues and harrowing stories told by the survivors are powerful and engaging. Looking at the production photos on the website tells me it probably looked better at The Public. Ah well, alas, alack.

Positives: Carl Palmer is an absolute standout as the no-bullshit Goose with his quiet dignity and simmering fury. Richard Hoover's scenic design, a curving slat of boards from floor to back wall, recalls both a coal chute and a structure on the verge of collapse. When Goose spoke of the ventilation system's ineffectiveness and the danger of the methane in the mine, my eyes were continually drawn to the breaks in the wall, the cracks threatening to suddenly shatter.

The cast of Coal Country with Thomas Kopache, center, as Gary. Photo source.


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