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'The Long Reunion' sinks its teeth into climate change with Manatee Players

Jack Gilhooley’s darkly comic “The Long Reunion” confronts climate change in a world premiere at Manatee Performing Arts Center.

Scott Ehrenpreis, Eldred Brown and Jennifer Kwiatkowski will perform in “The Long Reunion” at Manatee Performing Arts Center. Photo courtesy Dan Austin
Scott Ehrenpreis, Eldred Brown and Jennifer Kwiatkowski will perform in “The Long Reunion” at Manatee Performing Arts Center. Photo courtesy Dan Austin
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Jack Gilhooley is a prolific, area-based playwright. 

He’s tackled everything from racism to class warfare to the love life of Samuel Beckett. 

His latest play sinks its teeth in the relentless depredation of climate change. 

The Long Reunion” paints a picture of rising tides and a grim future where the landmarks of our familiar world are drowned. 

Oh, and one more thing? Despite its bleak scenario, the play is also funny. Gilhooley describes it as a “dystopian environmental comedy.”

He says the inspiration came from above. In the form of heavy rainfall.

“I was in Miami Beach a few years ago,” he says. “I saw fish swimming down the middle of Collins Avenue — the whole street was flooded. I said to myself, ‘There’s got to be a play there.’ Then it hit me: It has to be a comedy.”

So, what’s so funny about climate change?

The playwright thought about it, long and hard. The answer?

The comedy flows from inaction. Climate change is a big problem on a global scale. But unlike forest fires and hurricanes, it’s slow and gradual. So nobody does anything meaningful about it — like the dimwitted henchman in “Austin Powers” who stands in front of a slow-moving steamroller until he’s finally flattened.

That image reminded Gilhooley of another incremental change — the aging process. The face in the mirror doesn’t fill up with wrinkles overnight. You don’t notice it. But your friends do — every decade or so at a high school reunion.

“It’s the perfect metaphor,” he says. “Once I hit on that, the play wrote itself.”

Mark Woodland is directing
Mark Woodland is directing "The Long Reunion." Courtesy photo

Gilhooley’s imagination skipped ahead in time. He pictured three friends gathering for a high school reunion every decade. Each time they gather, they’re a little bit older. And their world is a little bit worse.

He submitted an early draft to Jan McArt’s “New Play Reading Series” at Boca West Theatre in Boca Raton. McArt loved it. The play came to life in a staged reading in January 2017. Critics and audiences loved it, too.

“The workshopping helped enormously,” Gilhooley says. “I owe a lot to Jan McArt.”

He was off to a great start. After that, he got nowhere.

“I shopped it around to theaters from the east coast Florida to New England,” he says. “I got zero response.”

Gilhooley finally showed his script to Rick Kerby, the producing director of Manatee Players. Kerby didn’t want to change a thing. But Gilhooley had a brainstorm.

He had originally set the play in an unnamed restaurant in a fictional city by the sea. Why not bring it closer to home?

Playwright Jack Gilhooley's latest play, “The Long Reunion,
Playwright Jack Gilhooley's latest play, “The Long Reunion," is a comical look at climate change. Courtesy photo

“I shifted the setting to a restaurant on the banks of the Manatee River,” Gilhooley says. “I filled the play with references to local landmarks and the names of Manatee High School graduates. I even added a nod to the demise of Snooty.”

Kerby gave the thumbs up. And they were off and running.

Rehearsals are now in progress for a fully staged world premiere. The cast includes Eldred Brown, Scott Ehrenpreis, Brenna Griffith, and Jennifer Kwiatkowski. Mark Woodland will direct, and he’s definitely looking forward to it.

“I love introducing new plays,” he says. “I especially love it when it’s one of Jack Gilhooley’s plays. He’s inventive, fearless, funny and original, and his voice sounds like nobody’s else’s. What more could a director want?”

“The Long Reunion” is new creative territory for Gilhooley. It’s his first, full-length play with a science fiction premise. According to the playwright, his only difficulty was making his satiric speculation stranger than fact.

“We live in strange times,” he says. “For a satirist, that makes your job a lot harder.”

But why make such grim material a comedy?

For Gilhooley, that was the only possible approach.

“I’m following in the proud tradition of ‘Waiting for Godot’ and ‘Dr. Strangelove,’” he says. “If you can’t get a good laugh at the end of the world, what’s the point?”



Marty Fugate

Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.