Ends Apr 02


Members say: Relevant, Thought-provoking, Great acting, Absorbing, Great staging
11 reviews
5 reviews

Ensemble Studio Theatre presents a theatrical exploration of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, based on more than 200 hours of interviews collected in its aftermath.... Read more

On April 20, 2010, the massive Deepwater Horizon oil rig, leased by BP and owned and operated by Transocean, exploded and burned off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 workers and triggering the largest oil spill in history. For 87 days, millions of gallons of environmentally damaging oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico. This theatrical event goes beyond the headlines to tell vivid personal stories from all sides of the country’s greatest environmental disaster. Written and directed by Leigh Fondakowski, the head writer for 'The Laramie Project.'

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Reviews (16)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

The New York Times

"An impassioned and overloaded documentary drama...Zealously researched and intellectually rangy, it reckons with tragedies both human and environmental...At times 'Spill' is vital theater...But the subject of 'Spill' often seems too big for the stage...Its onslaught of detail and evidence swamps narrative control...Provocative ideas surface and dissolve...This factual assault can make you crave some other medium, like an article or a podcast, which could be absorbed at a less hectic pace." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“Too often, the script bogs down in details as characters step forward to deliver big dollops of data…‘Spill’ has its moments of power, but watching it, I couldn't help feeling that this terrible and important story would be better served as a documentary film, book, or long-form magazine article. There is much here that appalls, which should never be forgotten, but the artists involved haven't managed the alchemical trick of turning it into compelling theatre.” Full Review

Time Out New York

"A timely piece of documentary theater...Considering how much information it must deliver, 'Spill' moves at a compelling pace, buoyed by versatile actors....Anecdotes, paired with macro-level musings on the romance of the oil industry and the ecological toll the spill took, combine to create a prismatic view of an all-too-real, man-made horror story. 'Spill' does what art does best in these politically fraught times: putting a human face on a complex issue, making it impossible to look away." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"A riveting, devastatingly real drama...Under Ms. Fondakowski’s brilliant direction...they all give layered heartfelt and moving performances. This is a true ensemble production...'Spill' is a must-see in this political climate. It speaks to what can happen again if we do not pay attention to Mother Earth...In leaving 'Spill' I was left bereft with a renewed sense that we need to revisit history before there is nothing left." Full Review

Daily Beast

“The ensemble enacting these events in multiple roles are all equally excellent…Fondakowski’s script is a wealth of detail and technical knowledge, clearly conveyed to a neophyte audience...‘Spill’ is an urgent, accomplished piece of theatre. It is not a call to action or cri de coeur. It is much calmer and narratively stealthier than that. But if you leave feeling both desperately sad and outraged, then it has done its bleak, brilliant job.” Full Review


"While the effort to include a variety of perspectives is admirable, the result is a bit too much information...Although the descriptions are intermittently devastating and the explosion's reenactment is powerful, the overgenerous documentation weighs down the drama...Exacerbating the script's excess is the shortage of actors relative to the number of roles...Despite such shortcomings, 'Spill' still gets across a sense of the human lives upended by the Deepwater disaster." Full Review

Chicago Tribune

for a previous production “The piece, which feels long and unwieldy, still struggles with the inherent lack of surprise…There is some visual poetry in the theater, but a political piece like this also needs more verbal poetry — more shaping of the disparate amounts of factual material that has been discovered. It all feels at the moment like the metaphoric key has yet to be found. There are some fine performers on the stage…But not everybody has the text down , lending the sense that the show still is in development." Full Review

Time Out Chicago

for a previous production “Fondakowski makes a pointed effort to humanize the event, constructing most of the first act from interviews with the families of those BP and Transocean employees killed in the rig’s destruction, as well as those workers who survived. After the intermission, ‘Spill’ traverses more familiar waters, hitting on relief efforts and after-the-fact blame-placing. But she still uncovers interesting, under-reported nuances…It’s that kind of uncontainable spillover that makes ‘Spill’ compelling.” Full Review


for a previous production “Fondakowski's play aims to accomplish what great theater should: the interweaving of the personal and political. The play shows the human side of a widely publicized issue that audiences may previously have held at a distance…‘Spill’ would benefit from drilling down even further on the humanity in this story and excising some of the more technical and expositional material that accompanies it. And, certainly, the play could stand to trim its overall run time, too." Full Review

Chicago Theater Beat

for a previous production “A vital retelling of the fiasco…150 thrilling minutes of action, analysis and accusation…Fondakowski has assembled a devastating evening of heart-wrenching and mind-boggling witnessing…It paints a chilling cumulative portrait of technological hubris getting a vicious blowback from a violated environment…Nine actors spill their souls as they bring to life the deaths of 11 oil-industry workers on this Macondo rig from hell.” Full Review

Newcity Stage

for a previous production “Fondakowski applies the rigorous methodology of ‘The Laramie Project’ to this complex play that seeks to define the true value of human life…Of all her notable gifts, Fondakowski’s skills as an editor and arranger are most present here…As a work of socially conscientious art, ‘Spill’ marks the delicate balance between making a living, being alive and life as we know it. A great tragedy, Fondakowski makes one thing painfully clear: this is more than a play. It is an ongoing reality." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Riveting, Great staging

See it if You want to see an amazing staging of a complex subject. The second act is riveting. Be sure to read the information in the program.

Don't see it if You're expecting a traditional play with a linear plot.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant, Great writing

See it if you are interested in how Big Oil's greed ruined lives and the fishing industry on the Gulf; the personal side of a major oil spill.

Don't see it if you want a light, happy drama; you have no interest in the environmental and personal impact of corporate greed and major disasters.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Relevant, Great staging

See it if you are interested in documentary-type dramas. Over 200 hours of interviews went into the making of a play.

Don't see it if you can't use your imagination. Actors switch roles on a dime.

Also The play is long—2.5 hours—but worth it. You may be overwhelmed by all... Read more Read less

Clever, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Profound, Relevant

See it if You enjoyed The Laramie Project. Same type of format but about the BP Oil Spill. Very relevant documentary theatre.

Don't see it if Are expecting a fluffy musical.

Also The play is comprised of interviews of people affected by this explosi... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if you want to understand how good people can be hoodwinked into voting against their own self-interests. Very timely!

Don't see it if you don't care how evil big oil is and how they ruin our planet. Very scary!