The tragic death of two boys in an industrial waste disposal accident is the event that drives Susan Hussey's world premiere drama, The Toxic Wave, at The Gorilla Theatre in Tampa, FL, but the wave washes away April 9. Performances began March 23.
Hussey, co-founder and co-producer of The Gorilla, told Playbill On-Line the work unfolds backwards, beginning seven years after the death of two little boys in a dumpster, with the apology of the plant owner in a courtroom.
"It ends on the night before the boys' death -- with a seemingly casual conversation between the two boys who are such good friends," Hussey said. David McElroy directs.
Hussey said she wanted a work that was highly theatrical: "A cast of seven, including two young boys, take apart an environmental crime, in the style of Rashomon or J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls," she said. "[There is] much creative doubling of the cast -- one actor plays three lawyers; the four parents are played by two actors, and the plant manager and the plant foreman are played by the same actor." Hussey wanted to show how fate puts us in the position where bad decisions are made and people are victimized, how crimes "could happen to any one of us."
The company is known for its political conscience, but also stages pure entertainment, such as the world premiere of the Burton Lane revue, I Hear Music, earlier this year. World premieres are sprinkled into the September-to-May Gorilla season in its 80-seat, three-quarter space. The company uses an Equity special appearance contract for most shows.
"We do all kinds of plays," said Hussey. "We do have a certain awareness of issues and want to [address] political issues. We generally do one or two political plays a year."
The Toxic Wave is meant to echo environmental disasters of the last few decades -- from the chemical dumping at Love Canal, which displaced an entire community, to the toxic effects of malathion spraying in the United States, Hussey said.
She feels emotionally linked to the subject matter and was inspired to write the piece after reading about environmental disasters that destroy lives. She admits that Aubrey Organics, which sells natural products and is run by theatre co-founder Aubrey Hampton, is a major funder of The Gorilla Theatre, and "there is a real desire to get the word out about natural products." But the crossover between play and patron is rarely as palpable as it is this month. There was no natural-product link to the season-opener, Hamlet, for example.
Hussey said the play is cautionary and entertaining at the same time: She would love to see audiences moved, but moved to help keep the lid on toxic dangers before tragedy happens.
Hussey is a poet, playwright, actress and co-founder (in 1988, with Hampton) of The Gorilla Theatre. Other works include Plutography in the Slave Trade (1990), The Dressing Room (1993-94), Small Mammals (1997) and Christmas Trio (1998).
The Toxic Wave cast includes Jack Brand, Cristopher Cropanese, Eileen Koteles, Lynn Laurence, Michael Mastry, Michael George Owens, Steven Clark Pachosa.
Designers are Michael DuMouchel (set), Rosie Geier (lighting), John Jackson (costumes), Sean Sanczel (sound). Dramaturg is Craig Alpaugh, who is also the company's managing director.
Tickets are $15. Gorilla Theatre is at 4419 N. Hubert Ave. in Tampa, FL. For information, call (813) 879-2914.
-- By Kenneth Jones