In the trailer for the sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth”, Al Gore explains that one of the most incendiary things postulated in the original documentary was the potential flooding of the World Trade Center Memorial. In 2006, people reacted negatively to that idea more than to any other idea explored in the original film. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the World Trade Center Memorial was, indeed, flooded, just as predicted. There’s no pleasure in that kind of “I told you so”, and Anthony J. Piccione, the writer of the children’s play “An Energy Tale”, seems to know that, but how do you feel inconvenient truths to children in around an hour without scaring them to death? Chocolate.
As Dr. Science (Ciara McGovern) explains, the kids in the audience will be asked to answer questions about what they’re watching, but the sweet surprise is that the audience participation is rewarded with Hershey’s kisses, flung out of McGovern’s pockets when she hears the answer that she, and Ciccione, are looking for. I don’t know if other children’s plays do this – I don’t have kids, so I wouldn’t know – but it seemed like a genius move to me.
“An Energy Tale” is a fable about catastrophic climate change as a flashback from a dystopian future, so it’s not exactly the most likely way to give little ones a rollicking good time. It seems, in fact, more designed to get their parents to vote left, even including a scene where the ensemble play DC politicians. It’s hard enough to get some 20 year olds to understand what politicians do, let alone kids, but it’s noble to try. And I’m not sure if an actress portraying “Oil” as a slick, obnoxious fat cat would go over well with parents in Texas or the Bakken. That said, Piccione does manage to make the hard lesson fun and entertaining.
The absolute find here is tween actress Catherine Ashmore Bradley, who plays the lead role of Sally. Sally is our future-kid tour guide through the environmental wreckage left by the adults in the “past” (our present day.) Bradley navigates the stage with the self-assurance of a veteran, and her credits show that, in fact, she’s been performing since the age of four. I sometimes find child performers hard to take if they’re too in love with themselves out there on the boards – Bradley falls into no such trap, coming off instead as charming, vivacious and smart without being a smartass.
I also want to give a shoutout to costume designer Samatha Lewis. Low budget, indie theatre is a hard space to do imaginative and lovely work in, and the ensemble were given a lot of storytelling juice portraying nuclear power plants and the like as dressed by Lewis.
I’m not sure “An Energy Tale” is preaching outside the liberal choir, and I do rather think that the six- to ten-year-olds in the target audience are probably told about sustainable energy sources in school. Like, a lot. But teachers rarely get to illustrate their concepts with actual actresses dressed as hydroelectric power, or rolling around the floor playing a piece of coal. And teachers don’t give out chocolate.