Theater Emory issues foreboding ‘Transmissions’

“Transmissions in Advance of the Second Great Dying” is set in the near future, a mere 20-odd years from now, but it isn’t exactly science fiction. It’s actually an environmentally conscious, cautionary parable hinging on scientific facts about the imminent perils of global warming and climate change.

That mouthful of a title obviously indicates the headiness of Jessica Huang’s drama and the gravity of its subject matter, which often posits a fittingly dire message with a decidedly heavy hand. Still, under the polished guidance of Melissa Foulger (her last directorial effort was Theatrical Outfit’s lyrical “Bright Half Life”), the stylized Theater Emory staging is visually — and aurally — striking overall.

The tumultuous forces of nature so imperative to the play are conveyed through the luxuriant projections configured by Milton Cordero (whose handiwork was recently on view in the Alliance’s “Everybody”), and the atmospheric effects of sound designers Bailey Gafeney and Christopher Lane. Most ingeniously, percussionist Paul Guy Stevens also supplies live, highly evocative musical accompaniment, wherein thunder is represented by timpani drums, lightning by a clash of cymbals.

Huang’s narrative structuring, alas, is less industrious and more plodding. Trevor Perry (“Head Over Heels” at Actor’s Express) fronts the cast as a mystical cosmic Being dismayed by the “complex limitations” of a selfish, overindulgent humanity that’s largely responsible for the existential threat to its own habitat. The character spends much of the time mourning the extinction of myriad plant and animal life forms, and recognizing the contributions and purpose each has served to the planet.

As for the story’s homo sapiens, as the Being refers to them, and who not-so-coincidentally share their names with famous hurricanes, Emory students Sydney Mya and Aayush Chopra portray the smart, conscientious Katrina (who’s pregnant) and her oblivious, “off-the-grid” boyfriend, Hugo. She soon cuts him loose to embark on a noble mission to provide for her unborn child, along the way befriending an endangered Canadian lynx (puppet design by Ryan Bradburn).

Adult actors round out the ensemble. Maria Carreon is the hopeful Carla, who’s vaguely grieving the deaths of her husband and child. She enters into a bizarre interpersonal relationship with the Being that begins by teaching “it” (the Being’s pronoun of choice) about cell phones, and eventually results in her own pregnancy. Nathan Ray and Emma Clapp play several smaller roles — including a recurring radio announcer broadcasting daily carbon emission levels, a construction worker mindlessly bulldozing the dwindling forests, and, best of all, a couple of bogus bicyclists and picnic enthusiasts.

Theater Emory’s usual performance space inside the Mary Gray Munroe Theater is easily adaptable. For this production, the audience is seated in two sections on either side of the rectangular stage area. Between the deliberately imposing music and sound effects, and the absence of any wiring to amplify the voices of the cast, it’s periodically challenging to make out all of Huang’s poetic language, whenever the actors are facing one half of the house (with their backs turned to the other half).

Then again, at the same time, that particular challenge proves to be ironically effective in the play’s final scene. Foulger divides the six actors into groups of three, to directly address both sides of the audience with urgent, overlapping pleas about uniting and working together to save our environment, before it’s too late. Gradually, some of them start speaking in foreign languages or communicating with sign language — and, even though we may not understand each and every word, the ultimate message resonates loud and clear.


THEATER REVIEW

“Transmissions in Advance of the Second Great Dying”

Through Nov. 6. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 5 p.m. Sunday. $12-$15. Mary Gray Munroe Theater (at Alumni Memorial University Center on the Emory campus), 630 Means Drive, Atlanta. 404-727-5050. www.theater.emory.edu.

Bottom line: A heavy message, delivered heavily.