The Great Immensity, a new show at the Public Theater, was always a stand-in for the play The Library, also at the Public. Let me explain: I was dying to see The Library at the Public, so I could go to the library, then go to the Library, then go to The Library. Tickets were pricey, though, so I decided I’d just have to make do with going to the library (for work), then going to The Library (for a drink), then going to The Great Immensity (for a show). Yeah. Not as exciting.
Nevertheless, The Great Immensity, at the Public Lab, has a number of things going for it. I was interested to hear the music of Michael Friedman (the composer/lyricist for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Love’s Labour’s Lost). And to say this show is ambitious is putting it mildly: this new musical wants nothing less than to dramatize climate change itself. Plus, the Civilians are apparently a lively and dynamic theater company, and this is the first show of theirs I’d seen.
Unfortunately, it was a bit of a messy, preachy slog. The story, about a filmmaker who goes missing and his wife’s attempts to find him, is totally farfetched, and more irritating than moving. The hackers trying to fight for climate regulations seemed dastardly rather than heroic. (Are we supposed to be rooting for these people? But they’re awful!) On the other hand, the kooky scientist characters were often pretty funny. And the best thing about The Great Immensity is the clever use of videos and projections. I’m not sure they needed so much video — the projections sometimes took the place of live performance for no particular reason — but for the most part, they added a bit of zing.
There were some lovely musical moments (especially the passenger pigeon song), but most of the score felt like a first draft, with the better songs still waiting to be developed. Perhaps this show is still early enough in its development that a lot of these issues will be resolved. During the course of this show I had a fantasy of Hal Prince coming in and cutting all the dull songs and fixing up the book and really whipping this thing into shape. Maybe a Hal Prince climate change show would be too entertaining, though. Perhaps a show about the biggest problem humans are facing right now should be a bit of a slog.