Review: Mendocino College Theatre Production of Wild Fire

October 23, 2019

Final weekend of performances THIS weekend:
Thursday October 24 at 7:30
Friday October 25 at 7:30
Saturday October 26 at 7:30
and Sunday October 27 at 2 PM

Wild Fire Authentically Portrays the Effects of Climate Change

Theatre review by Jamie Speka

“Are these the shadows of things that Will be, or are they the shadows of things that May be, only?”

            -Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

This potent quote, written by the late social commentator Charles Dickens in his great novel A Christmas Carol, connotes the looming of what always could be. The line ensnares the statements within Jody Gehrman’s new play Wild Fire that, like Dickens’ thought-provoking novels, stunningly grasp at the reality of what is and what may be.

The Mendocino College Theatre Arts Department brings Gehrman’s work to life. As part of the larger Phoenix Project, Director Reid Edelman assembled a cast that captures the wide range of individuals residing in Mendocino County, giving an organic look at the sheer troubles of climate change affecting locally.

Based on the rabid Redwood Valley Complex fire, which wreaked havoc on over three-hundred homes while destroying 35,800 acres in 2017, act one is present-day Mendocino County where characters struggle to make sense out of the horrors in which they have awoken to. There is the nurse, in scorched scrubs, plagued by the loss of a stranger; the dogmatic veteran, seeking a farm that used to be; and the young visionary recollecting over forgotten cultures. These colorful, authentic characters coupled with lines that echo in the minds of the audience, propel the play to do exactly what drama does best: provoke.

 Act Two is fifty years later in Mendocino County. The effects of climate change are beginning to take over, complete with over-crowding, climate refugees leaving their homes to find shelter in safer environments, and the political and social upheaval that naturally blossoms as a result of that. Populating the second act is an array of diverse characters, including a titular leader of a bizarre cult, one of his seven wives obsequiously by his side, a woman wielding a shotgun at the man who is said to have killed her daughters, and the eccentric, eclectic band of misfits finding joy from the past. Motifs dominate the subsequent acts as memories of the world fifty years earlier permeates the disposition of the disparate characters. Throughout, climate change ensues, continuing to ravage the world.

 Mendocino County 350 years into the future finds over half of the population gone due to pandemics. Moreover, humans have come back to hunter-gatherers as civilization is no longer existing. The act opens with a dying man, stretching a quivering hand out to the unattainable and distant beauty, as Pomo dancers, circus performers, and music congregate in the distance. Characters fight about rejoining a capitalistic society at the coast as they recount on what brought the world to this disarray.  

The simplicity of the set contrasting with the diverseness of characters and the compelling nature of the values presented all contribute to the unique, outstanding, and emphatic notes that speak to the audience; if we continue like this, the play won’t just be pure fiction.

Sublime performances from the whole cast who submerged the audience in great pathos. Leonello Simmons’ portrayal of Odin, the fallen fighter with visions of a cotton-candy filled beyond, deepens the connections between the ever-so distant pasts. Schuyler Marcier’s heroic Eli, laments on the destroyed synagogue and recites the impacting line, “Say less, do more” which adds to the profound whole of the play. Along with Margarita Diaz’s, Marisol, the fading woman, delivering her last speech illustrating the unforgettable power of culture.

With the first public premiere on Thursday, Wild Fire offers a reason for everyone to watch. Filled with engrossing dramatics, thrilling heroics, poignant truths, and meaningful conversations, the play provokes without preaching. It paints the end of civilization while questioning what is truly the sweet nectar that is meant to be saved?

Wild Fire will run October 18-27 in Mendocino College’s Center Theatre at the Ukiah Campus. Performances run for two weeks only. Show-times are Friday and Saturday, October 18th and 19th at 7:30 PM, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday, October 24th, 25th, and 26th at 7:30 PM, and Saturday, October 27th at 2 PM. Tickets ($20 general; $15 students and seniors) are available at the Mendocino College Book Company, the Mendocino College Bookstore, and online at www.ArtsMendocino.org. The performance on Thursday, October 24th is a special discount night, with all tickets costing $10. Audiences are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance.