The doggedness of a population determined to hold onto their land, no matter what, is illustrated beautifully---and hilariously---in Centralia, the current production from Mad Cat Theatre.
The premise of Centralia is the stuff of a 1950s sci-fi flick, but it’s actually based on a true story. In 1962, a coal fire began in the town of Centralia, Penn. and has been burning underground ever since, making the area dangerous and unstable. Nearly 20 years later the residents became aware of the widespread damage and risk, and shortly after most residents took the government’s buyout offer and relocated. Most buildings were bulldozed, but some residents refused to leave, choosing instead to hang onto their homes and maintain their hometown.
And that’s where the play “Centralia” begins. Written by London-based Superbolt Theatre, the play’s premise is that the remaining residents of Centralia---Jennyfer (Bonnie Sherman), Alistair (Troy Davidson), Norman (Theo Reyna) and a Musician (Steph Taylor)---have put together a show and taken it on the road to raise money and awareness about their situation and the history of their town.
What follows is an inventive loopy, wildly funny hour of entertainment that includes storytelling, interpretive dance and tales acted out with action figures. One of the best moments is when the cast dances to Cher’s “Believe?” a segment made even funnier by Reyna’s lack of rhythm. Then, there’s the Shoe Dance, which features three pairs of orange sneakers, a tribute to real-life Todd Domboski who encountered a sinkhole in Centralia in 1981. Those two chapters alone are worth the price of admission.
But all that wackiness is grounded with real heart, and Davidson, Reyna and Sherman do a terrific job of infusing each moment of Centralia with the emotion of three people who are brought together through shared disaster and their devotion to their hometown.
In “Centralia,” director Paul Tei has found an apt theatre piece for his artistic vision. Tei’s “Centralia” is an immersive experience that begins even before the cast takes the stage. His wink-to-the-audience set is like a theme park ride, setting the scene for a story so bizarre it has to be true.
Imaginative, goofy and poignant, Centralia is one of the highlights of South Florida’s summer theatre season.
Centralia runs through Aug. 31 at the Sand Box at Miami Theatre Center, 9816 NE 2 Ave., Miami Shores. For more information, visit MadCatTheatre.org.