Published on March 21st, 2012 | by Greg0
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 Residents were ordered to evacuate, the ZIP code was revoked by the Post Office, and all properties seized under eminent domain.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.