Theater is reckoning with climate change, holding its mirror up to nature – and Nåature – and choking back despair at what it sees. Flux Theatre Ensemble draws on a wild amalgam of Greek myth, glam rock, time travel, comedy, and dystopian projection to envision both that despair and an inkling of hope, with Metra, a brash, impactful fantasia by Emily and Ned Hartford.
Through backstory we learn that Cori (Cherrye J. Davis), a pioneering Black hedge fund manager, had a revelation as a limo smoothed her past protestors at the 2015 Davos Economic Forum. With eyes now opened to the rapaciousness of the ultra-rich titans and corporate interests driving the planet to ruin by burning fossil fuels non-stop, she is whisked three decades into the future. The magic is courtesy of Aglophonos (Rebecca Ana Peña), a tree nymph/siren who informs the startled human that she is the latest incarnation of Metra, a figure purportedly from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
As such Corey has a destiny to fulfill in the nightmarish 2040s. The rich and connected, still pumping fossil fuels, have retreated into comfortable “Bubbles” insulated from the raging heat and wildfires, hordes of climate refugees, and overall societal collapse outside. Cori joins forces with Sam (Corinna Schulenburg), once a journalist in the days when there was such a profession and now a kind of wise tramp, and with some help from chilly Aglophonos they plot to burst the local Bubble and bring closure to the Metra myth – and hope to the world.
Snaring prominent philanthropist Tyler Herzog (Richard B. Watson) from the Bubble, Corey browbeats him while Aglophonos conjures him into the figure of Metra’s father, a heartless ancient king who after cutting down a sacred grove was cursed to feel constantly hungry.
Songs help propel the play, sung with conviction mostly by a strong-voiced (though not always in tune) Aglophonos. The snarl of the music with its clever lyrics, the audaciousness of the story, the wonderfully ragged set and over-the-top staging, and above all the marvelous performances infuse a prosy, allegorical script with color and energy.
Davis brings grit and assurance to her portrayal of Cori. But though Cori is central plotwise, it’s Schulenburg’s Sam above all who makes the first act compelling. One of the most plastic (in the old sense) actors around (and also a fine playwright) she makes Sam a multidimensional and irresistible combination of caregiver, conscience, and cartoon. Watson lights an inferno from the acts of involuntary shapeshifting Tyler must undergo. Peña reveals exceptional depth playing what must surely be a difficult role: a magical being wrestling with very human inner torment. For most of the action she can express her feelings only through erupting into song – a riotous number called “Bechtel Man” stands out – but supernatural or not, ultimately she can dissolve into tears like us poor, savage mortals.
Metra touches on many aspects of the climate crisis. It is, after all, a crisis brought about not by a small set of dastardly oligarchs – or not by such figures alone – but by fundamental aspects of human nature itself. What better media to explore this than theater and music? Metra runs through Nov. 12 at the Abrons Art Center in lower Manhattan. Visit the Flux Theatre website for information and tickets.