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Grimsley’s CASCADE Paints Portrait of Futuristic Apocalypse

Climate change will impact our lives in unimaginable ways. That is the stark undercurrent of Cascade, a new play by North Carolina playwright and novelist, Jim Grimsley. As one of the characters notes, “The planet is going to be fine. We’re the ones at risk.”

In a brief 80 minutes, four individuals navigate an apocalyptic landscape. Global warming has caused extremes in temperature and weather, along with shortages that make our current supply chain woes seem minor. Mass migration fuels social discord and distrust as people lose faith in government institutions. Basically, the world has gone to hell.

The opening moments of the production feature video projections depicting a woman struggling with memory loss. Dovie Thomason’s Nan is riveting, lamenting her lapses and alluding to the fact that she has been left behind. Her poignant monologue establishes the somber tone that dominates the drama, and her subsequent video appearances serve as a reminder of people who are lost during the course of major societal disruptions. 

From being cognitively lost to physically lost, Atchins Ketchum, played by Derrick Ivey, along with his daughter, Molly (Tia Pulikal), are escaping Atlanta and heading to Canada when they miss a turn looking for a campsite. Stopping to recharge the van’s battery, they encounter Brettley Rhodes (Gabriel Graetz) and his mother, Zenna, marvelously portrayed by Dorothy Recasner Brown, both of whom have made a home in the mountains to escape some of the climate events.

Zenna, a former environmental studies professor, has become a sort of modern day Cassandra: no one listened to her warnings. She reflects that people count on scientists, but ignore what might complicate their lives, and then blame scientists when their predictions become reality.

As Atchins, Ivey offers a wrenching portrait of a man tormented by the decisions he has had to make and the strain of surviving amidst the chaos. He is a wrecked man on the edge of falling apart. Pulikal, a newcomer to the stage, holds her own opposite Ivey, although at times her character felt a bit underplayed.

Graetz’s Brettley is the most optimistic character of this crew, though his performance indicates there being more beneath the surface of this character. His cheery manner contrasts sharply with the downtrodden feeling of the others since he hasn’t yet abandoned all hope. 

Under Joseph Megel’s direction, this ensemble conveys a state of disconnection that magnifies the trauma of a world in crisis. Still, in the wake of the world pandemic crisis of the past two years, it is difficult to imagine how a climate crisis will devastate our daily lives. In a significant way, Cascade forces us to face our complicity in the coming catastrophe – and that is probably a good thing.

StreetSigns and The Process Series are presenting this insightful play in the newly refurbished Swain Hall Black Box Theatre on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, and also in a repurposed biodiesel factory, The Plant, in Pittsboro. For ticket information visit https://www.piedmontperformancefactory.org/streetsigns.

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