A Brief History of Human Extinction explores planetary doom in two and three dimensions

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      Created by Jordan Hall and Mind of a Snail. Directed by Tamara McCarthy. An Upintheair Theatre production. At the Cultch’s Historic Theatre on Saturday, October 13. Continues until October 20

      The planet’s doom can be a boon to creativity, as A Brief History of Human Extinction makes abundantly clear.

      It’s 2178 and a fungal plague has wiped out almost all life on Earth, except for the inhabitants of a biodome. Ever is the inheritor of a mission from her scientist father: she is about to launch the Ark, a rocket that will carry the last fetal humans and samples of other species to a distant planet, the only hope for the survival of humanity. Her assistant, Adam, wants to call off the launch; he’s in love with Ever, and he’d rather use the rocket’s supplies to sustain their own lives. He also objects to the presence of the facility’s third inhabitant, an otter called Ommie who may provide an unexpected link to the next step in human evolution.

      This collaboration between playwright Jordan Hall and the multimedia theatre artists of Mind of a Snail echoes the interplay between simple and complex life forms in its interplay between two- and three-dimensional realities. The spacious playing area is dominated by an upstage screen, on which projections of the actors’ faces and bodies often meet flat backdrops or shadow puppets. Sometimes these represent locations inside or outside the facility; sometimes the projections illustrate concepts, like a capsule history of evolution on Earth. There’s abundant wit and visual pleasure here: in one scene, when Adam incinerates the contaminated orchard dome, we see orange and red flames consume a projection of the model that sits on Ever’s desk.

      The story itself struggles a bit under the weight of its execution, though, as the technology sometimes has to catch up with the action, leading to some wonky pacing. And we know what’s at stake in the broadest sense right off the top, but the conflict between Ever and Adam feels somewhat repetitive until the second act. Late in the play, there’s a nice twist on the notion that “you either die or live long enough to evolve into something that isn’t you”—but it takes an awfully long time to get there.

      Under Tamara McCarthy’s direction, Lisa C. Ravensbergen brings a warm, rueful intelligence to Ever, while Daniel Martin’s lovesick Adam is grounded in hope—there’s a sustaining energy in him even as the situation grows dire. Stephanie Elgersma, who designed the incredibly lifelike otter puppet, operates it expertly with the help of Dave Mott. Jessica Gabriel and Chloé Ziner, a.k.a. Mind of a Snail, contribute their distinctive style of colourful and detailed 2-D puppet work.

      Jerguš Opršal’s set and lighting create the perfect atmosphere of sterility for the teeming-with-life projections, and Nancy Tam’s original music and sound design amp up the sense of impending doom.

      Hall gives a nod to the notion that humans will be the authors of our own demise with an extended allusion to 2001: A Space Odyssey. But until the end comes, we’re bound to keep making art about it.