Albert Einstein is credited with saying that great opportunities lie in the midst of calamity. Award-winning playwright Karen Malpede agrees. Her latest work, Other Than We, presents a post-apocalyptic scenario in which survivors have a chance to remake the world. She calls this bold, non-linear and non-literal drama a “climate fiction fable.”
The play opens with a creepy assertion by Michelle (played by Lisa Birnbaum): “Women are wearing out.”
The statement is matter-of-factly directed at her lover, Eve (Emily Fury Daly), and is an oblique reference to the near-constant forced insemination of women in the radiation-free “Dome,” a protected bubble where the privileged have taken shelter. As an obstetrician, Michelle is privy to the many manipulations that have been crafted to repopulate the planet and, although the reasons for this are not spelled out, the dialogue implies that the earth has been decimated by several unnamed ecological disasters.
For her part, the attentive Eve is equally upset. As a former neuroscientist turned teacher, she hates the canned lessons that she is forced to provide and worries that her research has been taken — or will be taken — by a never-defined ”them.”
Lastly, there’s Tanaka (Tommie J. Moore), a male Dome janitor who becomes an important source of support to the women.
Over time, the threesome develop an escape plan and head North to an area they assume will be less contaminated. But before they depart several things happen. Eve and Michelle inseminate themselves with a concoction that blurs the line between human and animal, and Eve retrieves Opa, her elderly father (George Bartenieff) from his home outside the Dome. With him, she makes a harrowing journey to reunite with her partner and friend.
What follows is simultaneously unsettling, surreal and hopeful. Both women give birth to a new life form — hoofed and horned — while Opa transforms into a winged creature, a soaring bird who pontificates about democracy, empathy and freedom. He’s eloquent and impassioned in proclaiming what’s needed: A new world order populated by human beings “whose hearts and heads beat in unison.“ The resultant transformation, he says, will turn us into “noble creatures” who see ourselves “as a part of, not apart from” nature.
It’s a grand vision, born of catastrophe, but with the possibility of triumph. Now, to make it happen.
Other Than We
Written and Directed by Karen Malpede
Produced by Theater Three Collaborative
Runs thru Dec. 1, at La MaMa: 66 E. 4th St., Mnhtn
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