Ben Randle


SF Chronicle: 'Into the Clear Blue Sky': Apocalypse rolls on

"Bush was in power," the playwright says. "The environment was collapsing."

Lee's apocalyptic vision laid the groundwork for his "This World and After" trilogy, which is being staged by Sleepwalkers Theater and is "the most ambitious thing we've ever done," says producing artistic director Tore Ingersoll-Thorp. The second part of that trilogy, "Into the Clear Blue Sky," opens tonight.

Set against a surreal New Jersey landscape, "Into the Clear Blue Sky" follows Mika, a young girl who discovers that the world is ending. Waking up to find her hands charred a deep black, she flees to the moon. Her brother Kale chases behind. As the world - and set - melt away, they struggle through a chaos of ridiculous demons and cannibal Canadians.

"The play is about a little girl and her imagination, trudging through wilderness," says Lee, who cites comic books and "The Lord of the Rings" as his greatest influences. "She's a modern Frodo."

Lee's "This World and After" trilogy is "about redemption and cohesion" in an increasingly chaotic world. In each, his protagonists are teenagers.

"Things make sense when you're a teenager that don't later," he says. "There's theatricality in the imagination."

The first play of the trilogy, "This World Is Good," came out in August 2010 and focused on a family crumbling. The final play, "The Nature Line," is set to come out in August and is "about putting back together the human body."

"Into the Clear Blue Sky" focuses on the dyad, on a severely damaged relationship and a secret.

Lee - a native New Yorker who wrote most of his trilogy during two years in Berkeley - says he sees his work as political, its whimsy an attempt to make sense of chaos.

"We try to protest, we try to vote, and none of it seems to work. Then there's climate change - now radiation, this war in Libya," Lee says. "The mechanisms to solve the problems around us are failing - they are beyond our capacity. And that's the apocalypse.

"The mythology of the end of the world helps us cope with the anxiety we have."

But despite the heavy themes, the atmosphere on set is youthful and surprisingly jovial.

"People might be on apocalypse overload right now," Ingersoll-Thorp says. "It might be too real. But it's an exciting plot, so you can ignore those themes and enjoy it." 

8pm tonight-Sat. Through April 30. $15-$17. The Phoenix Theater, 414 Mason St., Sixth Floor, S.F.

Read the article on Chronicle's website here.