Opening Nights: Friend's Enemy

The compromises of Big Eco.

Nebunele Theatre is a company dedicated to the idea of collective creation, and their second production gives further evidence that they're onto something good. Nine collaborators culled through scads of ideas, books, articles, personal stories, questions, and mythologies, then took a two-week retreat in northern California. There they came up with this tightly plotted, multimedia exploration of how people reconcile (or don't) their environmental idealism with corporate realpolitik. While a bit rough in execution, Friend's Enemy manages to be what few big "issue" plays are—enjoyable. (And you've only got one more weekend to catch it.) As directed by Randy Dixon, artistic director of Unexpected Productions, which has been doing improv comedy at the Market Theater for years, the play unites conventional stage storytelling with movement, screen text, video, and voiceover in a way that's both intelligible and imaginative. At the center of the action is Laura (played by Nebunele co-founder Alissa Mortenson). She's the executive director of FOOF (Friends of Our Future), a conservation group that has compromised so deeply over the years with business interests that it might as well be the public-relations face of the timber lobby. Like Tilda Swinton's character in Michael Clayton, Laura struggles to convey the illusion of integrity long after her commitment has withered— as in the opening scene, where she practices a speech to funders. Laura finds solace with her lackey assistant and devotional lover, Courtney (Grace Booth). Investigating Laura and FOOF for a Newsweek article is deceivingly mild-mannered Nina (Sophie Nimmannit), whose late mother, Ann, founded FOOF. Through Nina's interviews with Laura, and with an environmental radical named K. Martin (Erwin Galan) who seems hell-bent on exposing FOOF's chicanery, the backstory emerges, with Nina's article unfurling on a screen behind her. The breadth of storytelling mechanisms here helps animate what could be a preachy, didactic theme. In one effective scene, Courtney canvasses the audience with the familiar "Do you have a moment for the environment?", putting us in that defensive antiballistic mood while offering a window into the psychology of sidewalk fund-raisers. Eventually, Courtney too starts to smell the ersatz off-gassing of Laura's genteel idealistic veneer, and in a memorable series of interactions, the couple's eyes lock while the sound system articulates their dialogue in voiceover. A refrain of throwing each other against a wall reveals the couple's abusive dynamic. As Nina, Nimmannit carries the burden of the play's structure with cipher-like smiliness, which is annoying at first but takes a satisfying turn at the end. Her mother's legacy weighs heavily on her, and sharpens her eyes to see what many others can't: There's always a price to doing good, and everyone is compromised, even saints. 

 
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