The Wilting Point
Sally Ann Flores as Antuca Otero Veracruz in The Wilting Point at Keegan Theatre; Credit: Mike Kozemchak

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In the second scene of Graziella Jackson’s new play, The Wilting Point, playing through April 30 at Keegan Theatre, Antuca Otero Veracruz (Sally Ann Flores) sits with her silent son, Takudo (Gabriel Alejandro), cataloging the bean varieties her family and neighbors have grown for seven generations. Wistfully describing each variety before it is packaged for preservation by a seed library, Antuca stops at the humble cowpea, praising its unique ability to simultaneously nourish its human growers while improving the quality of the soil from which it is harvested.

Touching moments like this, which root the play’s characters in the land they deeply cherish, are the emotional bedrock and best parts of Jackson’s first entry in her four-part climate-focused Elements play-cycle, developed by Keegan Theatre’s Boiler Room Series. While future productions will center on air, earth, and fire, The Wilting Point centers on water. Jackson, Keegan’s 2022–2023 Playwright in Residence, takes her audience to the Sangre de Cristo mountain region of southern Colorado, where a close community of channel irrigation farmers struggle to cope with the disappearing water and upstream pollution brought on by the new wealthy (and White) residents. 

The Wilting Point follows Antuca, Takudo, and his child, River (Sophia Colón Roosevelt), as they cope with a flood of water-related challenges while the mysterious death of a local businessman looms overhead. Podcast host Mina Melo (Beverlix Jean-Baptiste) travels to Colorado to investigate the murder at the behest of her pushy boss Finley Grey (Judy Lewis), but soon comes to realize that the bigger story is the excruciating dehydration of the land. In a Greta Thunberg-inspired turn of events, River takes on Musk/Bezos replication Maximillian Wasser (Silas Gordon Brigham), garnering both internet fame and bona fide climate activist credentials. 

Jackson notes in the show’s program that she wrote The Wilting Point to be a time capsule for what life was like when we were on the brink of climate catastrophe. But the production often feels so committed to depicting today’s technological milieu that it prevents the dramatic tension from rising to a level that meets the impending catastrophe the play continually references. Periodic appearances by Maximillian halt the story’s progress rather than augment the dramatic tension, and as River becomes an internet sensation, a series of loud and chaotic voice-overs mimic internet chatter that feels out of place. 

Even so, The Wilting Point contains impactful moments that underscore generational and economic divides that families everywhere are facing. Flores’ Antuca is tender and endearing, and the audience can easily connect with her struggle as she holds to the ground she can no longer rely on. She turns to the stars for answers, which River pointedly reminds her may actually be billionaire-funded satellites. “I can still believe in stars,” Antuca says, smiling, refusing to allow the easy cynicism of today’s technology to get in the way of her connection with nature. Too often, climate change is framed for how its large-scale impacts will affect entire populations across the world. Perhaps, by doubling down on the individual, familial stories, like those of Antuca’s, Jackson can inspire the action her play demands.

Curiously, Mina, who Jackson, in her program notes, calls our guide through the play, takes a back seat to the other characters. The audience experiences Mina as an interpreter and catalyst, rather than the show’s protagonist. Whether this was Jackson’s intention (Mina will be a character in each of the plays) is unclear, but Jean-Baptiste’s subtle acting satisfyingly moves the action along without getting in the way of Mina’s podcast subjects.

Aside from the sensory depictions of social media, director Danielle A. Drakes’ production leans in to simplicity, generally deferring to the writing and performances. Using a simple multi-platform stage and geometric hanging backdrop (design by Matthew J. Keenan), onto which Zavier Augustus Lee Taylor projects images of the night sky, mountains, and the multiverse, the open stage evokes the feeling of being on Antuca’s vast farm, even in Keegan’s snug theater. 

Jackson’s Elements plays are a natural fit for Keegan’s Boiler Room Series, which offers up-and-coming playwrights support and promotion to go to “new and unexpected places,” according to the theater. Her four-part undertaking is a bold step into bringing climate-related stories to life onstage. The Wilting Point has the capacity to be the kind of time capsule that Jackson wishes it to be, not because of its depictions of today’s technology and robber barons, but rather because of the cross-generational interactions it illustrates. Its parting message is to trust the young climate activists who will be (or already have been) saddled with an irreparably damaged planet if swift action is not taken. In focusing on the stories of those whose lives will be most affected, Jackson has potential to be at the forefront of writers documenting our changing climate.

The Wilting Point, written by Graziella Jackson and directed by Danielle A. Drakes, runs through April 30 at Keegan Theatre. $45–$55.