Two astronauts have returned to Earth. But their disastrous mission is only the start of the problem. When all communications with the outside world are suddenly cut off, they're forced to confront their worst existential fears.
Such is the plot of The Great Filter, a new play written and directed by Frank Winters, which will receive a live premiere July 1-3 at the Wild Project, with a worldwide stream of the filmed production available starting July 29. The play is the brainchild of its two stars, The Magicians cast members Trevor Einhorn and Jason Ralph, and it's a family affair. Einhorn and Ralph produce alongside Scrap Paper Productions, the company founded by Ralph's wife, Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan.
The seed of the idea was planted in 2020, when Einhorn and Ralph were trying to develop various projects that kept getting stalled by the pandemic. "I had just watched the Apollo 11 documentary," Ralph recalls, "and there are no interviews or voiceovers. It puts you right in the seat of these guys, who are launched into space, where the journey is three-weeks long each way. They do this extraordinary thing, and then they land in the ocean and a ship picks them up. You expect that scene from a movie where you have the astronauts walking down the runway, but instead, they're taken from the can they've been in for six-plus weeks and then stuck in another tin can, because they had to be secluded. And I was like 'What is this place, where you have this group of people who've been on this mission, have finished it, and are home, except they're not? What happens in that space to your mind and relationships?' I wanted to do a play about that."
The Great Filter is a fundraiser for the Cultural Solidarity Fund, a relief organization that provides $500 microgrants to artists and cultural workers in New York City. That, and the idea of supporting the off-Broadway theater community however they could, was an important aspect, as well. Broadway always dominates the media reports — coverage of Bruce Springsteen's ongoing concert series at the St. James Theatre, for instance, has superseded the fact that smaller theaters have been presenting indoor shows for weeks — and that's understandable.
But, as the pair say, it's unfair. "Off-Broadway was really hit hard," Einhorn notes. "They're small businesses. It's really tough to find the ones that can hang in that don't have huge dollars behind it. We wanted to make this a fundraiser spotlighting off-Broadway while we're hearing about all this other Broadway stuff." Ralph adds, "Broadway is the juggernaut of our industry, but you can't have Broadway without off-Broadway. We can highlight that, and put a spotlight on these artists and theaters that people don't typically think about when they think about theater."
Making the production available to stream is another way that they're giving back, both to the industry and the massive fandom amassed by The Magicians, which ended its five-season run on Syfy last year. It's an ample opportunity for their fans who don't live in New York (or are still afraid to venture out) to catch the show, as well as a path toward creating a sustainable model for theaters to bring their performances to larger audiences. "There's a really unique process of being able to enjoy a live experience from your living room," Einhorn says, with Ralph adding, "It's not only an opportunity to share this kind of art with people who are not in New York, but maybe we can help plow the way for the off-Broadway community to find another revenue stream it hasn't tapped into."
Only time will tell.