Caso Chevron

Playwright Phelim McAleer discusses ‘dark side’ of environmental movement in ‘The $18-Billion Prize’

Extreme fraud on the part of Donziger tore apart the environmental case, and it is this deception that McAleer and Leaf chose to constitute the play’s focus and drama.

The Daily Californian - Nikki Munoz 23/05/2018

Photo: The Daily Californian

Photo: The Daily Californian

What happens when a play that advertises itself as showing “the dark side of the environmental movement” is performed in the notoriously liberal San Francisco? “The $18-Billion Prize,” written by Phelim McAleer and Jonathan Leaf, seeks to answer that question.

A piece of verbatim theater, the play’s script is made up almost entirely of the trial and deposition transcripts of the court case Donziger v. Chevron Corp., in which Chevron Corporation was accused of polluting Ecuador’s rainforest. The environmentalist side was represented by lawyer Steven R. Donziger, who gained prominent attention from this case. Ultimately, Chevron lost and was ordered by the local Ecuadorian court to pay more than $18 billion.

The case was often described in positive terms when co-playwright McAleer first heard about the then-ongoing trial, wherein the brave environmentalists were heralded for bringing justice against an evil corporation. Yet after following the case, McAleer became aware that there was more to the story. Extreme fraud on the part of Donziger tore apart the environmental case, and it is this deception that McAleer and Leaf chose to constitute the play’s focus and drama.

“This complete 360 happened, where it turned out the environmentalists were the frauds,” McAleer said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I’m always interested in how the media pushes a story. I always like to follow these stories true to the end, so that’s what got me interested in this,” he said.

McAleer believes having people’s real words spoken in a theater makes for a compelling production, hence the play’s verbatim format. With “The $18-Billion Prize,” he finds that the story holds many elements that make for great drama, especially its courtroom setting. “The elements become more alive in the theater than any other way, and I thought, this is the way to do it,” he said. “It’s just spellbinding. You don’t want to miss a single word because you know that this is exactly what this person saw and witnessed on stand.”

“The $18-Billion Prize” explicitly portrays a side of the environmentalist movement that may make supporters of the cause uncomfortable — including those involved in the play. Early on in production, a lead @@actor@@ quit after allegedly deciding that he felt uneasy about the play’s content.

Having actors walk out after reading his script is nothing new for McAleer. His last production “Ferguson” ? also a piece of verbatim theater, which premiered in 2015 ? depicted the courtroom case of police officer Darren Wilson. In 2014, Wilson shot 18-year-old Black teenager Michael Brown and was not indicted. Nine of the 12 actors quit the production, claiming a lack of accuracy in the production’s depiction ? McAleer’s selections were critiqued as overly biased in their omission choices ? and an overall discomfort with their involvement in it.

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