The Justice Theater Project's Light on the Horizon is a reflective play, offering little in terms of answers but a lot in terms of questions and regret. Though focusing mostly on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, it is as much a look at Southern Louisiana culture of the past century as it is about the spill itself. Written and directed by Justice Theater Project director Deb Royals, it intersperses songs, oral histories and documentary research, painting a portrait of a land seemingly cursed by ecological disaster.
The play's first act charts the rise of the petroleum industry in the Gulf, viewed by residents as a boon and a supplement to the important shrimping industry. The second act starts in the present, after the spill, and works backward to portray what went wrong as the oil devastated an economy still reeling from Katrina. It ends with a look at environmental disaster to come.
The large cast moves often about the stage, standing in for the fishermen, oil riggers, politicians, restaurateurs, children and families of the region. The action, narrated mostly by Reggie (Carlos Massey), evolves less as a narrative and more as an enacted memory. Logistically, getting so many actors on and off the stage so frequently in just under 90 minutes is challenging, but Royal makes good use of her cast in moments such as the recreations of the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival or the climactic oil rig explosion. This is the play's high point: Royal is able to quickly sketch out a number of the doomed characters and then force us to watch, in horrifying detail, as the rig descends into chaos.
The light of the play's title is, of course, the oil rig itself, not a beacon of hope. The play does not point any fingers or place blame; the people of this region, it shows us, are too busy suffering and too busy trying to survive to find solutions or answers to the question of "Why did this happen?" It's chilling, and a bad omen for a world soon to be mired in so many similar environmental catastrophes.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Burning up."