Timeline Theatre’s “Spill” Review – Honoring Lives Lost to Oil Lust

Ensemble members Justin James Farley (right) and Chris Rickett portray oil rig workers on the doomed Deepwater Horizon

 

Go to “Spill” knowing that you will be chastened to admit that your daily use of petrochemical-based products – from your plastic toothbrush, to your pen, to your food packaging, your cellphone, computer, etc., and of course, the fuel in your car—makes you complicit in the story of big oil.

 

This is the first full staging of “Spill” outside Louisiana where the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, took place.

 

Ensemble members Justin James Farley (right) and Chris Rickett portray oil rig workers on the doomed Deepwater Horizon in TimeLine Theatre's Midwest premiere of SPILL, written and directed by Leigh Fondakowski

 

Who remembers the eleven men who lost their lives in the BP oil spill in the Gulf?  Media cycles being what they are, it’s not a big stretch to think that for most Chicagoans the story faded from our consciousness long ago.  At the time, with the comfort of geographic remove, many of us just made jokes like “BP just means Biggest Polluter”. 

 

Ensemble members Tim Decker (left) and Kelli Simpkins portray a grieving father and a narrator listening to his story

 

If we weren’t watching the news closely on the first few days after the disaster we may have never even known that deaths occurred.

 

Playwright and Director Leigh Fondakowki is putting this misdeed right, telling the tale of the eleven men who lost their lives in the disaster, the overwhelming loss of their families, and the trauma of many more who endured to tell the tales.

 

Ensemble member Kelli Simpkins portrays multiple roles, including a grieving mother Arleen Weise

 

Think of “Spill” as a dramatized Sunday New York Times Magazine story about the Deepwater Horizon disaster. 

 

 

 

 

Fondakowski and Dramaturg Reeva Wortel conducted  hundreds of  interviews with people who in the Gulf who had personal contact of one sort or another with the disaster as it unfolded.  “Spill” excerpts these interviews into a vignette collage.   

 

Ensemble members (background from left) Tim Decker, Christopher Sheard, Chris Rickett, David Prete, Caren Blackmore and (foreground) Craig Spidle portray multiple roles to go beyond the headlines and tell the story of the 2010 BP oil spill in TimeLine Theatre's Midwest premiere of SPILL, written and directed by Leigh Fondakowski

 

 The incredibly talented ensemble cast of “Spill” (Caren Blackmore, Tim Decker, Kelli Simpkins, Craig Spidle, Justin James Farley, David Prete, Chris Rickett, Christopher Sheard, and Justine C. Turner) --often switching roles in less than a blink-- and the phenomenal set design (Sarah Lambert), lighting (Betsy Adams), sound design (Andre Pluess), and overhead projections (Mike Tutaj) and staging make “Spill” a powerful and moving account of a story that needs to be told.

 

 

The disaster is re-lived.  We nearly choke on the fumes from the burning oil platform. 

 

Ensemble members ( from left) Justin James Farley, Christopher Sheard, Craig Spidle and Caren Blackmore portray oil rig workers fighting for their lives on board the doomed Deepwater Horizon

 

We can almost feel our flesh burning as we join the crew trying to clean up the mess.  We go to the living rooms that the ghosts of the victims still haunt.   We come to know the bottomless grief of the fathers, wives, and others suffering the loss of their loved ones.   And our stomachs turn at the legal parsing by BP executives during the investigatory hearings that followed.

 

Ensemble members (from left) Christopher Sheard, Craig Spidle, Chris Rickett, and Kelli Simpkins portray multiple roles to go beyond the headlines and tell the story of the 2010 BP oil spill

 

Again and again we taste the rage of those who knew the disaster was going to happen but couldn’t stop it.  

 

Ensemble members (from left) Justine C. Turner, Chris Rickett, Caren Blackmore and Craig Spidle portray multiple roles

 

 Then, we grapple with hearing many of the victims’ family members asking President Obama to re-consider his ban on offshore oil drilling. 

 

Ensemble members (background from left) Chris Rickett, Christopher Sheard, David Prete, Caren Blackmore and Kelli Simpkins and (foreground) Tim Decker portray multiple roles

 

 

A warning or two is in order.  At the intermission many around me were asking their neighbors if they understood all that was going on.   The script has much  exposition on the technicalities of oil drilling in the story setup that is likely to confound someone far removed from the oil and gas industry.   Although the program book provides an oil drilling glossary, there seems to be far more technical lingo in this script than is necessary or advisable.  As a frequent ghostwriter of both technical and not-so-technical articles for engineering and industrial publications I can report that even those type communications wouldn’t ordinarily pile tech terms so high and thick, excepting manuscripts for academic journals. 

 

Hang in there though and don’t get distracted by thinking you need to master these techie details.   You likely understood the gist already, and certainly do by the time the oil well blows.   And few, if any, will miss the main themes of hubris and greed when we hear the BP CEO lament towards the end of the play that he wishes HE could “get his life back”. 

 

Now through December 19.

 

Stage 773

1225 Belmont Avenue

Chicago

 

For tickets or information visit the Timeline Theatre Company website or call the Stage 773 box office at 773 327 5252.

 

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Photos:  Lara Goetsch

 

 

 

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