Don’t touch anything in the theater
A gripping drama that addresses the “what if” of an unidentified flu pandemic with no known vaccine, “Contagion” boasts an impressive cast in a variety of roles that give perspective to every facet of such an event. Written by Scott Z. Burns from an idea he and director Steven Soderbergh had, this touches on other known cases such as H1N1, SARS, and even references the great Spanish flu pandemic in the early 1900s whose victims numbered in the millions.
The story races around the world as scientists and doctors try to figure out patient zero and identify the virus causing the deathly illness before global panic sets in. The prime candidate is Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), an international marketing executive who returned home to Minneapolis from a trip to China with flu-like symptoms. Two days later she’s dead and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention begins to realize there are other cases. The World Health Organization gets involved within days because clusters of deaths are turning up in Asia as well.
Leading the CDC team is Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), a seasoned veteran who sends Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) into the field to track the first cluster case in Minneapolis. Overseas, Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) with the WHO is dispatched to China where the dense population has made the disease easily spreadable from city to countryside.
Meanwhile CDC senior biologist Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) is working in a top-secret lab around the clock trying to identify and find a vaccine, but a colleague in San Francisco (Elliot Gould) beats her to it. Also involved are Homeland Security officials who are not convinced this isn’t a terrorist ploy. For good measure, Burns and Soderbergh throw in whistle blowing blogger Alan Crumwiede (Jude Law) who smells a conspiracy between big government and the pharmaceutical industry and uses the power of the Internet to spread alarming and irresponsible rumors, and in some incidences, the truth. Crumwiede also boasts of a simple cure that sends the sick and the panicked running to homeopathy stores.Along with the clinical and investigative sides to the story, we also get the perspective of Mitch (Matt Damon), Beth’s bewildered husband, who seems immune to the bug. He is the window to a world going mad month by month, with no cure in sight. By now looting is rampant and communities around the world are quarantining themselves to avoid transmission and certain death.
With such a heavy cast, some characters get lost in the shuffle, mainly Cotillard, whose character disappears at mid-point due to a plot device. But Winslet and Ehle are standouts. Particularly Ehle, who may be less familiar to audiences as mostly a stage actress who does occasional film work. She should do more.
This is a frightening story with real implications that had me squirming in my seat after Dr. Mears explains how easy transmission of such diseases is and how fast it can overtake the population, growing exponentially while it jumps from continent to continent. I kept thinking, “Who sat here before me and did they cough on anything?” If you don’t leave the theater and run to the nearest facility to wash your hands, you are a brave soul. At the very least, I expect sales of hand sanitizer to spike after this compelling, cautionary tale.
To the pantheon of actresses who have had the pleasure of playing one of the most memorable characters in musical theater including Ethel Merman, Patty Lupone, Bernadette Peters and Tyne Daly, add local talent Ramona Young. She is the star of Beaumont Community Players production of “Gypsy,” which will run for two more weekends, so get your tickets fast. Directed by BCP veteran Paula Bothe, this is a great night of theater that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is the brave actress who is willing to tackle the demanding vocals of Jule Styne and Steven Sondheim (book by Arthur Laurents), and Young makes the part her own. Also turning in a great performance was new talent to the BCP stage Natalie Cardona, a Lamar University theater major who captures the sweet and feisty Louise perfectly and has a voice to match. I guarantee you will be on your feet applauding wildly at the curtain call. Visit beaumontcommunityplayers.com or call (409) 833-4664 for ticket information.