THE ECO SHOW Written and directed by Daniel Brooks, with Richard Clarkin, Joe Cobden, Fiona Highet, Geza Kovacs and Jenny Young (Necessary Angel). At Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Previews begin Tuesday (May 13), opens May 15 and runs to June 1, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $20-$25, Sunday pwyc, previews $15. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
So you recycle your bottles and try not to run the water when you’re brushing your teeth. Is that enough to save the planet? Hardly, though we know that personal acts add up globally.
But what happens when the shaky relationships within a family parallel the unravelling environmental harmony? In The Eco Show, playwright/director Daniel Brooks brings the macrocosm smack up against the microcosm.
At its core is a family whose father, Hamm, rails against humankind’s environmental assaults on Mother Earth. Everything is ecologically connected, he fumes, so that harm done in one area inevitably affects another.
“Lots of people think that just because they recycle, the world’s going to be saved,” says Joe Cobden, who plays Hamm’s son, Joe. “Just as recycling alone isn’t going to cut it, the family in this play can’t simply take small measures to improve their situation and assume overall harmony will be restored.”
The two children in the family have a different kind of awareness as well, adds Jenny Young, who plays Joe’s sister, Fifi.
“The kids see the environment, their parents and their surroundings in a way that goes beyond the teachings of Hamm,” says the actor. “They’ve been instructed to look outside the box, so 15-year-old Joe rejects a lot of what his father has been telling him.
“Even Fifi, though she’s only nine and wants to do everything she can to please Hamm, is a creative thinker. She doesn’t merely repeat her father’s ideas but constructs her own, all the while dealing with big issues like a family member’s imminent death.”
For all of the work’s serious undertone, Cobden and Young use the idea of childhood play to explain the creation of their characters.
“Daniel has encouraged us to play as Joe and Fifi, to begin in a place that’s fun, good-natured and immediate,” recalls Young, who recently performed in Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad. “But then he distills that element of play down to its essence; he doesn’t want to stay with the surface material we find.
“Actors aren’t often challenged by a director that way. If a performer brings into rehearsal something that works for a show that opens in a week, the director often takes it without digging deeper.”
But the three-year process for The Eco Show – it was workshopped here last year and then, at another stage of development, played in Montreal – means that everyone involved in the production can wring all possibilities from the script’s ideas.
“What attracts me to come back year after year is the struggle with the material and Daniel’s commitment to it,” offers Cobden.
The idea of fine-tuning is a theme of The Eco Show as well as its process. “There are no easy, quick solutions to the problems facing either the play’s family or their deteriorating world,” says the actor.
Cobden’s performance style is very different here from his recent work in Beyond Mozambique, in which he played a priest with an addiction problem. Everything there was presented in a larger-than-life fashion, while in Brooks’s script Cobden’s character is introspective, not sure what the right answers are.
“Everything turns out to be textured, with grey areas rather than blacks and whites. That results, too, in a different way of telling the story than you’ll find in most plays. At one level, we’ve come together to explore the ecology of storytelling.”
“And after three years we trust the process,” agrees Young, “and realize that the ecological cause-and-effect also exists between artists and audience. We want to make the audience complicit in the performance, and hopefully we’ll listen well enough to be authentically connected to them every night.”