Occupation

nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
June 6, 2013

A few of my friends are from Florida, and have many amusing stories about their home state.  I wish one had been able to join me at Ken Ferrigni’s Occupation – they would probably have enjoyed it even more so than I did.

The first few minutes nimbly set the scene and introduce us to the characters.   It is 2017, and the world is in a dystopic state – there’s an ongoing chemical war in Korea, PBS is showing Ken Burns documentaries about “the Second Great Depression”, and Oregon secedes from the Union.  Florida’s fate is different – the United States sells the state to China, and American-educated Deng Zedong is appointed government liason.  He is assisted by American Maria Burrus, whose political ambitions outstrip her patriotism; she’s even given herself the Chinese name “Mei-Mei”.  But a team of patriots camps out in the Everglades to fight back, led by a local preacher (the enigmatic “Bay Ray”, heard only in recordings and credited as “himself”).  The rebels gain early ground, as their ranks include several recent veterans; some, like Gare, relish the battle (“where was this war ten years ago?” he gleefully asks), but others, like his wife Kell, take a grimmer view.  The play’s prologue ends with a literal bang when China starts using drones, and Bay Ray is killed, leaving his son Florian as the figurehead leader and the war in a stalemate.

There is a lot of wit.  One early scene sees Florian confiding in Gare about the failings of his PR campaign – he has been making a series of Youtube videos, and frets about their decreasing popularity.  When he complains that one insulting comment on his video has scored “80 likes”, Gare simply replies “you shouldn’t read the comments”.  Another character, Bets (Alexandra Perlwitz, who is clearly having fun with the role), a pregnant girl living on the outskirts of the camp, steals nearly every scene she’s in; she drinks box wine directly from the box, dreams of going to visit Oprah and tells her unborn child (whom she’s nicknamed “Pokemon”) bedtime stories about the snakes and alligators outside her tent.

Bets becomes a pawn in the plot when Kell, now sick of the war, uses her as an excuse to get to Zedong’s office, on the pretext that she’s seeking medical care for the girl.  Once in the Chinese headquarters, though, Kell  throws herself on his mercy and begs him to help her and Gare escape the war.  Zedong is at first willing – he’s just come from a drunken romp with Mei-Mei – but then learns how highly-placed Gare is among the rebels, and demands some tactical secrets from the rebels in exchange.  When she tries to comply, though, Gare is not only hurt by her betrayal – he’s also not sure he wants to leave in the first place.  Meanwhile, back at the camp, Florian gets a “message” from his dead father, who guides him towards a deadly new weapon and urges him to use it in a suicide strike against the Chinese, while Bets and Mei-Mei have a meeting of the minds which ultimately leads to devastating consequences at the play’s end.

Fair warning that the play runs an hour and 45 minutes, and does not have an intermission; although, it’s probably a good sign that it certainly didn’t feel that long.  I was also a bit uncertain as to Gare’s final moments in the play, and what prompted the act that ruined Kell’s plans. Fortunately, the play is moving at such a fast clip by then that it’s easy to let this pass.

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