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Published on March 21st, 2012 | by Greg


Centralia: Real-Life Ghost Town Turned Theater Production (With Cocktails!)

The sto­ry is an in­ter­est­ing one: an Amer­i­can town in Penn­syl­va­nia, pop­u­la­tion 1000, that was whol­ly con­demned. Res­i­dents were or­dered to evac­u­ate, the ZIP code was re­voked by the Post Of­fice, and all prop­er­ties seized un­der em­i­nent do­main. Now, about ten peo­ple re­main, who refuse to leave the area de­spite the dan­gers. What hap­pened pre­cise­ly is a bit of a mys­tery, but it boils down to coal and fire.

Most like­ly, a trash dump was set ablaze, and in­com­plete shield­ing al­lowed the fire to leak through to the rich veins run­ning be­neath the town. Even­tu­al­ly, the prob­lem was no­ticed, and sev­er­al ef­forts to ex­tin­guish the flames end­ed in fail­ure. Sink­holes opened up, car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing be­gan to take it’s toll on the health of the pop­u­la­tion, and $42 mil­lion was al­lo­cat­ed to buy­out the town and re­lo­cate ev­ery­one. Es­ti­mates sug­gest that the fire could con­tin­ue to run for an­oth­er 250 years.

This dra­ma serves as a com­pelling back­drop for a play from Ug­lyRhi­no Pro­duc­tions that has been run­ning at the Brook­lyn Lyceum, ti­tled, sim­ply, Cen­tralia. We caught the per­for­mance last week­end, and it’s def­i­nite­ly worth check­ing out for the last show this Fri­day. Tick­ets run $25 per per­son, and en­try times are stag­gered- you show up be­tween 8 and 8:30 and are led with a group through an ini­tial room and li­ba­tion, then head up­stairs where the main ex­pe­ri­ence takes place. View­ers wan­der at their own pace, catch­ing drinks be­tween each of the five oth­er rooms, each de­vot­ed to a ‘scene’ based around the sto­ries of the peo­ple of Cen­tralia.

The lo­ca­tion it­self is in­ter­est­ing, but ul­ti­mate­ly doesn’t quite work- sounds car­ry over a bit too much from room to room, and in­stead of feel­ing a bit like Cen­tralia, it ends up feel­ing pret­ty much like what it is: a Brook­lyn ware­house. We have to cred­it the ac­tors though, as deal­ing with re­peat­ing the same sketch­es with the fair bit of ex­ter­nal dis­trac­tion must be in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult. And most pulled it off, with sol­id char­ac­ters and de­cent en­vi­ron­ments in the rooms them­selves. The scenes are short- five or so min­utes each or less- but a cou­ple were un­ex­pect­ed­ly pow­er­ful. We en­joyed the “non-tra­di­tion­al sto­ry­telling with a so­cial at­mo­sphere”, as it’s fun to talk to oth­er at­ten­dees while wait­ing at the bar. And the drinks were well-con­ceived, of­fer­ing an sol­id menu of var­ied liquors. Re­sults were mixed, as might be ex­pect­ed when thir­ty peo­ple show up at once to an im­pro­vised small bar.

Cen­tralia takes a great con­cept and builds some sol­id char­ac­ters, even if the pro­duc­tion it­self doesn’t quite leave you spell­bound. The in­clud­ed cock­tails are a great touch, and we def­i­nite­ly hope to see more of this sort of sto­ry­telling in the fu­ture. Per­haps a more care­ful cre­ation of sets and lo­ca­tion and cast would serve well, even if the cost was a lit­tle high­er. And judg­ing from the crowd’s re­sponse, there is cer­tain­ly de­mand.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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