PearlDamour’s “Ocean Filibuster” Demands That You Get With The Picture

For its southeast premiere, “Ocean Filibuster” is now showing at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, and the performance posits the human condition from the view of the awesome ocean. Awesome in the 19th century definition, that is, being beautiful and terrible and unrelenting. South Florida Theater Magazine was there to witness it during opening weekend on Sunday, November 13.

I understand the power of the seven seas and yet, I don’t. For what it is, the originator of life, we owe our very breath, but it does not care about us and our tiny lives. In this production, PearlDamour demonstrates their ability to provoke its audiences into thinking about the sociological commentary surrounding ocean conservation. I have never seen anything quite like this show, and that’s such a wonderful thing.

TimeIntro8 – Pin Lim, Forest Photography University of Houston 2022

The stage setup was simple: a large, white podium sat centerstage, with stairs leading up to it on either side, and large, white backdrops made a slight arc around it. That’s it. The backdrops were used to project images and graphics of color and under-the-sea magic during the show. This created an immersive effect for the viewer, tossing you into the water to float around on your back, just to have you sink.

While there is an ensemble, the main performing artist (Jennifer Kidwell) plays two roles. First, as Mr. M, a political figure and speaker. Then, as O, the physical embodiment of the ocean itself. I cannot emphasize enough how impressive Kidwell’s performance actually was, switching roles at the turn of a dime by voice inflection, body language, microphone reverb, and a pair of red eyeglasses. Did I mention Kidwell sings as well? It’s clear she is the lifeblood of “Ocean Filibuster.”

Ocean pause — -Maggie Hall copyright 2022 American Repertory Theater Production

Speaking of filibusters, the plot of this performance is a singular filibuster put on by O, the ocean’s physical form. As the show starts, Mr. M takes the podium centerstage to address the audience. He proposes a bill to reduce Earth’s oceans in an attempt to tame the rising sea levels and provide more living space for humans to populate. With animated images of this proposed plan projecting on the white backdrops, Mr. M sings about the perseverance of the human race in the face of adversity. Ensemble members sit amongst us in the audience and interject when the floor opens for questions and are escorted out of the room by guards and security. The “screen” glitches, Mr. M disappears, and O appears draped in cascading amounts of plastic to announce that they will hold a filibuster to block this bill.

O makes us dive deep, deep into the depths, announcing that there is life in the bioluminescence, that we all started here. Mr. M and O exchange philosophical differences throughout the tale (just by lifting the glasses on and off, or turning from stage-left to stage-right), and it becomes evident that the predicament is one-sided. We will always lose to the ocean.

The intermission is usually something never reported on, but for this particular performance, exhibits of ocean-based education were set up on stage and in the lobby. Patrons were able to interact with modules about sediments of the sea, crocheted patterns of fauna, and augmented reality to show how Miami will eventually sink beneath the waves.

Maggie Hall copyright 2022 American Repertory Theater Production

Afterwards, the filibuster is still ongoing. Tempers are flaring. O and Mr. M seem to almost come to an agreement about the future of the seas, but he is pulled back to reality by his own awareness, and he dismisses the passion emanating from O. The filibuster is cut short in a slow-motion fight scene; victory to humans, loss for the ocean. But what was most interesting about this conclusion is that the fight scene does not end it, as one could predict. O casually addresses the audience directly by calling them to action, exemplified by the show’s interactivity, and they walk into the audience, followed by the ensemble. Once they are close enough to hug, they sing the final song: “The whale calls its mate.”

Ocean conservation, interactive education, and a one-woman wrecking ball. This is what “Ocean Filibuster” is, currently on at the Arsht Center in Miami, a stone’s throw from the Atlantic. Tickets can be purchased here for its last five shows. Don’t miss it because the world depends on it.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *