Would you let gas companies drill beneath your yard, if it meant a payout so huge you’d never have to work again? Your answer might surprise you—so suggests Marcellus Shale, a new play about fracking from venerable downtown ensemble Talking Band. Written and directed by Paul Zimet and running at La MaMa, the piece implies that big money and environmental collapse can play strange tricks on our communities—and our sanity.
Three high school buddies return to their bucolic hometown upstate, only to find that the older generation has signed away their land rights in contracts no one understands. Cows are dying, crops shriveling, and all the old folks do is listen to ham radios and pray. Convinced desperate measures are needed, the trio plans a dicey anti-fracking mission, armed with hoodies and revolutionary angst.
Fracking is naturally laden with apocalyptic overtones, and Zimet aptly mixes political drama with an ominous pseudo-Christian dreamscape. Nightmares and hallucinations abound, and a chorus of white-suited men (angels, we’re told) appear between scenes.
These omens add imaginative breadth, but a little portent goes a long way, and the dreams eventually become more tedious than intriguing. By the end, I wished the whole town would go get a good night’s sleep—and consult lawyers in the morning.