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Theater review by Naveen Kumar
World-building is tough stuff. Just ask the family stranded at sea in Barbara Hammond’s Terra Firma, set in the not-so-distant future. Imagining themselves an island nation and setting up a mom-and-pop shop is their best and only bet: Mom (Andrus Nichols) serves as the country’s haughty, delusional queen, Dad (Gerardo Rodriguez) runs operations, and their prodigal son (Daniel Molina) is the sole heir. His inheritance is a rusty deck, held aloft by two pillars that reach the ocean floor. (The impressively compact scenic design is by Andrew Boyce.) They have but one citizen (John Keating), who at the outset is helping Dad secure a fisherman (Tom O’Keefe) as hostage. How did they wind up here? Where is here? What happened to the rest of the world, and what are those explosions? Here’s what we know: There’s been a war, plant life is scarce and there may be no women left out there at all. But don’t worry! This is a comedy.
The inaugural production of the COOP, of which Nichols is the artistic director, Terra Firma achieves only some of the many things it wants to. Although the hostage speaks in what sounds like a German accent, and a diplomat (T. Ryder Smith) in an Italian one, the play seems curiously uninterested in the role of race and racial difference in the drawing of borders, drafting of constitutions and taking of prisoners. Given the COOP’s stated mission to produce radically inclusive work (and a preshow acknowledgement of elders indigenous to the land beneath Manhattan), it’s an omission that makes the play ring hollow. Hammond seems eager for her dystopia to resonate with our rapidly devolving present, but her allegory is too abstract and out of focus for that; neither does the absurdity of this micronation—inspired by a real one—reach the level of farce, though director Shana Cooper deploys a fleet of physical gags. Eventually, it’s the audience that feels marooned.
Baruch Performing Arts Center (Off Broadway). By Barbara Hammond. Directed by Shana Cooper. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission.