Save the World
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 19, 2008
I'm don't think I've ever seen anyone attempt anything quite like Save the World on stage: this new play by Chris Kipiniak really is a full-blown fantasy/comic-book-style super-hero adventure, complete with awesome super-powers, globe-spanning locations, and techno-thriller plot developments that include, among many others, a near-collision with a star. This production from Roundtable Ensemble engages its audience's imagination to the nth degree. Yet at the end of the day, I couldn't help wondering if this material wouldn't be more effective in the realm of either comic books or film, where its most fantastical leanings could be better served with appropriate visuals and/or special effects.
Save the World takes place in the "immediate future." The Earth is in trouble: when the play begins, simultaneous catastrophes have broken out, literally around the globe—fires in Paris, a massive building collapse in Los Angeles, floods in Kashmir, and terrorist attacks in Tokyo. The Protectorate, a group of super-heroes, are doing their best to combat all of this, but the evidence that a single super-villain is behind it brings them to their compound (in what was once Denver, a city destroyed by that star I mentioned earlier), where they try to figure out who or what is able to bring such destructive force against them...and why.
The Protectorate is led by the (never-seen) Aon, a super-genius-type whose specific gifts are never clearly enumerated. The super-heroes we do meet in Save the World are: Stagger, the group's spokesperson, who can slow time; Legend, the least articulate of the bunch, but a man who can grow to massive size, with commensurate increase in strength; Umbra—once a criminal but now on the side of the law, she can control shadows; Quake, a Native American who possesses a tribal amulet that can power earthquakes; and Future-Knight, a one-time scientist who has a technologically advanced suit of armor. Their number also included Roach, who is supposedly indestructible, and Prodigy, who could download people's minds but was killed in the Conflagration that resulted when the star collided with the Earth.
The stakes are more or less as high as the play's title suggests: the Protectorate is in real and imminent danger of destruction, and if they're wiped out, the tenuous peace that has reigned on Earth since their ascension will almost certainly terminate. Who is trying to destroy them? Why? Will they succeed? Or will the Protectorate win the day?
The plotting is ingenious and involving. The play's moral compass, though, is unexpectedly wavering and ambivalent. Kipiniak does not give us super-heroes who are perfect; they are very much guided by politics and expediency as they weigh whether to let a building fall killing a few hundred people versus planning the destruction of their unknown assailant and thereby possibly preventing the deaths of many more. The play's vision is ultimately apocalyptic and a little bleak; the lift that the story's fantastical elements provide is more than offset by the serious, even pessimistic, nature of its main themes.
Michael Barakiva smartly avoids trying to show us any of the remarkable feats his characters perform, leaving them to our imaginations instead. Shoko Kambara's set design includes some neat elements, notably a massive conference table at the Protectorate's HQ where each super-hero has a high-techy streamlined computer monitor (thinner even than the new MacBook Air) built right into its top surface. Oana Botez-Ban's costumes provide color-coding for the characters, which is a nice touch. Shane Rettig's sound design provides some useful ambience for the piece.
The actors work hard to convey their heroes' essences, with particularly fine work turned in by Craig Bridger as the tormented Roach, Charissa Chamorro as Umbra (she's very effective in the scene where she finally demonstrates her unusual powers), and Danielle Skraastad as the Machiavellian Future-Knight.
It's a noteworthy effort, though as I've already said, it strains the resources of theatre to the max and beyond. Kipiniak is a grand storyteller, but for this particular story, the stage may not be the most appropriate medium to spin it.