What would be the most effective play about climate change? That’s the question that Australian playwright Melissa-Kelly Franklin seems to have asked herself while writing this short play with the long title.
“We’ll Dance on the Ash of the Apocalypse” begins with the everyday effects on a young couple in the future. We see the (nameless) woman and the man (Maite Jauregui and Danny Horn) eating a measly meal that he scrounged up – we’re made to understand that it’s actually a fuller meal than usual, because it’s her birthday — while they make idle chat about the refugees from Australia crowding the docks (presumably in England) because , in that continent, “what’s not already barren is being ravaged by wildfires.”
Then she tells him that she’s pregnant. It was unplanned, and unwanted – she doesn’t want to bring a child into such a wretched world — but it’s almost impossible to get an abortion “for people like us.” There’s no more health insurance. Everything seems to have shut down. That includes museums, theaters and universities, which seems to upset her more than anything. “If they don’t have the things that bring us some fucking joy in all this mess, why bother trying so hard to cling to a planet that can’t sustain us?”
This is a promising if largely familiar premise, and the two appealing performers are for the most part persuasive. At some point, however, the two actors do a little slow-motion dance, and suddenly there are a series of flashbacks, starting at the time they met, at a climate change protest (his first arrest, her 17th.) Not only are they climate activists, but the woman’s mother turns out to have been a climatologist, who committed suicide, apparently in despair over the failure of the world to take any action about the growing crisis.
In exchange for the playwright having turned everyday characters into climate experts and activists, I would have liked to hear more specific facts, figures, or at least explanations about climate change – for example, why did the climate crisis result in the shutting down of universities? Perhaps anybody well-versed in the issue would know this, but surely the playwright does not intend “Apocalypse” only for climate experts.
This seems clear to me if for no other reason than because of the hopeful (nearly cheerful) turn “..Apocalypse” takes. Coming in the last quarter of this 40 minutes play, the hopefulness feels so abruptly tagged on, so unearned, that I wondered whether a glitch in the video had made it skip a few scenes.