Leigh Fondakowski, the head writer for Tectonic Theater Project’s The Laramie Project, about the murder of Matthew Shepard, and also the author of The People’s Temple, a documentary-style look at the cult led by Jim Jones, brings the same interview-based, verbatim-dialogue approach to this piece about the 2010 BP oil spill precipitated by an explosion at the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon. The format will be familiar to viewers of those previous works, up to and including the use of a character to stand in for the interviewer (here played by frequent Fondakowski collaborator Kelli Simpkins, who also served as a dramaturg).
What should differentiate Spill—which is getting just its second production at TimeLine, following its debut at Louisiana State University last year—from our collective memories of the just five-year-old disaster is its focus on what led up to the spill. Much of the news coverage of the situation focused on the weeks-long effort to stop the underwater gusher and protect the Gulf Coast, but Fondakowski makes a pointed effort to humanize the event, constructing most of the first act from interviews with the families of those BP and Transocean employees killed in the rig’s destruction, as well as those workers who survived.
After the intermission, Spill traverses more familiar waters, hitting on relief efforts and after-the-fact blame-placing. But she still uncovers interesting, under-reported nuances—such as several of the victims’ family members, after their meeting with President Obama at the White House, appreciating his time but opposing his administration’s moratorium on offshore drilling. They were angry and in mourning for their loved ones, but still saw the oil industry as vital to their region. It’s that kind of uncontainable spillover that makes Spill compelling.
TimeLine Theatre Company at Stage 773. Written and directed by Leigh Fondakowski. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.