On Saturday July 25, 2015 you have one last chance to see “Rachel,” a bio-musical about Rachel Carson [1907 – 1964], the marine biologist and conservationist whose writing brought awareness about the dangers of pesticides on the environment to The White House and the general public. As the daily headlines about oil spills, air pollution, and the disappearance of honeybees are still causing alarm, Carson’s work is as compelling and urgent as ever. Her book “Silent Spring,” published as a hardcover in 1962, serialized in The New Yorker and Audubon Magazine, and promoted as a Book of the Month Club selection, is still required reading.
Written by a brother-sister team from New Jersey, this show (originally titled “Always, Rachel”) became the Official Selection of the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival. This month it has received its World Premiere as an Official Selection of the 2015 Fresh Fruit Festival.
There are 23 numbers by Jessica Field and her musician brother Jared Field. Some songs are stand-outs such as “DDT,” a buoyant exaltation to the herbicide by the charismatic Carson-foe Julius Hyman (outstanding ROBERTO ARAUJO) and “What Move to Make” by the energetic literary agent who guides Carson’s career, Marie Rodell (LIPICA SHAH, who steals every scene she is in). Ensemble numbers such as “Have You Read It?” are cleverly staged. However, especially in ACT II, several anemic songs cry for fresh blood.
The inciting incident happens in the first scene at Pennsylvania College for Women, when the ambitious college student (RACHEL FLYNN) tries to switch her major to biology and gets a lecture about Home Economics being more suitable for a coed who, naturally, is expected to marry and be a homemaker. Actress ERIN FISH portrays Rachel as an adult and occasionally her younger self appears on the set, side by side, encouraging the older woman to continue pressing forward to complete the manuscript.
In this play, a cluster of helpful females orbit the dedicated conservationist: her loving mother Maria Carson, a supportive former teacher Mary Scott Skinker, her dynamic literary agent Marie Rodell, and her housewife-lover Dorothy Freeman. In real life, when Rachel Carson was 44 years old, her acclaimed 1951 bestseller “The Sea around Us” won a National Book Award and offered the solid reassurance of financial security to the unmarried woman. The books that followed were also bestsellers that brought income, recognition, and status. If there was any social pressure about her single status or scandals about being a lesbian, the play does not stray into that territory. Instead the obstacles the protagonist faces in “Rachel” are a diagnosis of cancer, challenges by the chemical companies who profit from poisonous pesticides, and a strained relationship with Dorothy when the author’s successes and career demands absorb all her attention. If the play is revised, the writers would do well to ramp up the dramatic tension — — admittedly hard to do when, in reality, your character enjoyed one rousing success after the other.
Fifty years after Rachel Carson died, at age 56, in Silver Springs, Maryland on April 14, 1964, her book “Silent Spring” is still in print asking important questions like this: “How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?”
Spend two hours on Saturday with this trailblazer who has given us much to think about.
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Ari Laura Kreith directed the cast of “Rachel”: Erin Fish, Rachel Flynn, Tamra Hayden, Lipica Shah, Roberto Araujo, Ann Flanigan, Anette Michelle Sanders, Trevor St. John-Gilbert, and Jonathan D. Mesisca.
Fresh Fruit Festival 2015 presents “Rachel” on Saturday, July 25, 2015 at 2:00PM at The Wild Project 195 E. 3rd St. (between Ave A & B), New York, NY 100009
Tickets at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/527.
Subway: F-Train 1st Ave & Houston