'Two Degrees' heats up conversation on global warming

Two Degrees. Christy Montour-Larson. Photo by John Moore.  ‘Two Degrees’ director Christy Montour-Larson. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Two Degrees
, the provocative title of Tira Palmquist’s new world-premiere play, is meant to both set up her story … and sound an alarm.

“There has been an effort to describe where we need to cap the escalating temperature of the Earth in order to forestall a whole host of problems including melting ice caps and rising ocean levels,” Palmquist said. “Two degrees Celsius was the number given. And that number resonated for me. It’s a number that can help people understand this palpably thin margin we are fighting for. Two degrees (or 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

Two Degrees. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenterTwo Degrees, Palmquist says, is a proudly political play. But it’s also a human play about a woman in crisis. That’s why, she said, it’s no accident that her story begins with two people engaging in, well…their own kind of global warming.

“For me, this is a play about climate change, but it’s also about what it means to be a woman over 40,” Palmquist said. “And you know what? Women over 40 have sex.”

“Not only that,” added Two Degrees director Christy Montour-Larson with a laugh, “but we like it. And we’re good at it.”

(Above and right: Christy Montour-Larson, left, and Tira Palmquist. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.)

Two Degrees began as a challenge from a friend who encouraged Palmquist to write a play for a female protagonist over 45 — something as rare as uncooked steak. It became all the more personal when Palmquist chose to make the story about climate change and grief. Grief for a loved one. And grief for the planet.

“When I read about climate change, I actually feel a physical grief in the pit of my stomach,” Palmquist said. “I despair of what will happen if we don’t act. And that became an important catalyst for the play. How do we make this clear to people that climate change is real? And then, what can we do about it?”

Two Degrees introduces us to a scientist named Emma who has been called to Washington to testify before a congressional committee on climate legislation. This is a particularly difficult moment for her because it also happens to be the anniversary of her late husband’s death.

Montour-Larson calls it “a beautiful, thought-provoking and witty play of today about an important human issue.” And did we mention? “I think it’s a pretty funny play,” Palmquist added.

What Two Degrees is not is the same play it was when it was introduced to DCPA audiences last February as a featured reading of the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. Neither is it the same play it was on Nov. 7, the day before Donald Trump won the presidential election.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

Palmquist already was planning to make changes to her script based on the victor because the outcome of this particular election would have a drastic impact on what Emma would be doing in Washington — helping to pass a possibly unpopular legislation, or trying to fight a perhaps scientifically unwise legislation, depending on which party controlled Congress. And in November, Americans elected a president whose firmly stated beliefs on climate change are, at best, highly oppositional to Emma’s.

A Two Degrees quote“The election has absolutely changed the urgency of the play,” Palmquist said. “It also has changed the villain of the piece. One of the villains I see are those legislators who are not educated on what the science is saying. I also think apathy and fear are villains. I worry that people will give in to despair. Or worse, that they won’t understand that this is an actual pressing problem. Either eventually will mean that we are dooming future generations.”

But Palmquist promises that her play is not unwelcoming of contrary points of view. “One of the main characters in the play, Clay, works in the mineral-exploration industry, and Clay has a point of view,” she said. “It is not necessarily my point of view, but I feel certain that we could get past that to find common ground. It’s true that someone who does not believe in climate science may find their point of view challenged. But I welcome them to come, and then maybe we can have a conversation.”

There is a sacred place in theatre for comedies, musicals, romances and adventures. Montour-Larson believes plays that are political in nature are just as essential.

“I think it’s important to remember artists are cultural architects,” she said. “The world needs people with reckless imaginations like Tira. We have a passion for the possible, and we have a commitment to creativity, because to create is to be fully human. And we are healers. Through our work, we can heal and give hope.”  

It has long been said that theatre is supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. “And if that is true, then I think that it’s also important to try to find the hopefulness in this play,” Palmquist said. “This play ends up not being a tragedy. This is a play about what it means to start having conversations.”

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Video bonus: Tira Palmquist on Two Degrees

Our video with ‘Two Degrees’ playwright Tira Palmquist, at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit. Video by David Lenk and John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Two Degrees: Ticket information
Two DegreesEmma, a climate change scientist, is invited to share her findings at a Senate hearing that could define her career and her cause. But if she can’t overcome her tumultuous inner struggle, her dedication and sacrifices may not be enough. Two Degrees was developed at the 2016 Colorado New Play Summit.

Feb. 3-March 12
Jones Theatre
ASL and Audio-Described matinee at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 5
303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE

Previous NewsCenter coverage of Two Degrees:

Two Degrees: Five things we learned at first rehearsal
Colorado New Play Summit Spotlight: Tira Palmquist, Two Degrees
Video: Look back at 2016 Colorado New Play Summit
2016-17 season: Nine shows, two world premieres, return to classics

Two Degrees. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenterThe cast of ‘Two Degrees’ at first rehearsal. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

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