Catastrophy in Eugene Stickland’s All Clear

By Jesse Keith

What would you do if the unthinkable happened, if all of a sudden the air raid sirens blared and the public service announcements on TV told you the bombs were on their way? Would you head for the basement, get under the table, duck and cover or just get down and pray? And what if you survived? Where would you get food, water or heat? What sort of life would you have?

These questions confronted me as I watched Eugene Stickland’s new play, All Clear, currently running as part of Alberta Theatre Projects’ PlayRites festival.

All Clear is the story of a suburban family trapped in their home some weeks or months after a terrible disaster. The doors and windows are duct-taped shut and covered with plastic sheeting, all they have for light are flashlights and trouble lamps and all they can see through their plastic sheeted windows are clouds of sickly orange smog. Time drags and their nerves fray as they wait for word from outside, for the “all clear” announcement that will allow them to see what is left of the world.

Stickland’s interpretation of how people might behave in this situation is unconvincing at times.

For example, Maddie (Valerie Ann Pearson) decides to leave her husband Deleany (John Wright) and their unhappy marriage of 20 years now that she can’t leave the house. It’s supposed to be ironic, but that doesn’t make it believable. Also unconvincing was Bobby (Jeff Lillico), the teenage boy in the family, who is losing his mental stability in the stress following the disaster. He walks around the set repeating the words Maxim, Big Gulp and 7-11, because that’s where he was when the disaster struck.

Despite All Clear’s shortcomings, however, Stickland comes away a winner, creating an audacious, creative script. It takes courage to write about a situation nobody has ever experienced. After all, does anyone know how a family would act in that situation?

Although All Clear fails to convince at points, the intriguing and important themes it brings to the audience–themes society needs to think about a little more–make it well worth the ticket price.

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