Political satire and drama comes to the Columbus Performing Arts Center, Saturday, Feb 6, with the help of the Available Light Theatre company and the Phoenix Theatre for Children. The play, "Welcome to the Saudi Arabia of Coal," is about life in the coal fields of Appalachia where men and women chain themselves to heavy machinery to stop mountain top removal mining, and where others try to protect, sometimes violently, jobs the mining industry provides.send comments

"It's totally possible to conceive of an evening of theater that will be entertaining and moving but also have relevance to something very current,” said Matt Slaybaugh who writes and directs for the theater company and teaches at the Columbus College of Art and Design.

The play, which is loosely inspired by Jeff Biggers' newly released book, Reckoning at Eagle Creek, the Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, depicts a young Appalachian couple, Hobie and Marie, as they grapple with whether to fight to keep their home or leave their families' heritage behind as a strip mining operation moves in on the land Marie's family has had for seven generations.

This particular mix of drama and satire connects to the mission of the Available Light Theatre company. We are about the idea that culture should be involved in the life of the community and the relevant issues of the day and that's the reason we've chosen to support the Coal-Free Future Project, (which the play is a part of ), Slaybaugh said.

Journalist and author Biggers, and Stephanie Pistello, an activist with Appalachian Voices, formed the project as a multi-media venue for communicating with people around the country about the impact of coal mining and climate change.

"We really hope people see this play and are inspired to join the movement and do what they can. We're going to have an action item available for people to take before they leave the theater so as to take the emotion and energy you feel and put it directly into something that will help people in Appalachia and help all Americans to move past this, so we have a better way of generating our electricity,� said Pistello, who portrays Marie.

Just about anyone with the time and energy can go to the show on Saturday. Though the online vendor, ShowClix prompts people buying tickets on the Available Light Theatre web-site to select a price range between $10 and $50, Slaybaugh said, the price is wicked. It's pay what you want, which is exactly what it sounds like. That's actually something our (theater) company does : all of our shows, all of our tickets are pay what you want. If you got a dollar in your wallet and you want to see the show, great. Come to the show. We'll take your dollar. This is possible because we also have some people with the ability to pay a lot more than that, and they do. So it all works out in the end, and everybody benefits."�

This particular night on the town can be an occasion for enjoying ourselves while we learn more about how to make the world more sustainable, just, and compassionate.

Actor and independent film-maker Ben Evans, who plays Hobie, uses what he calls "faux-mercials"� to give the mountain top removal mining issue a satirical treatment , in a vein similar to that of his soon-to-be-released film (Your Environmental Road Trip.)YERT

"It's a fairly serious play but we wanted to bring a little levity to the situation. When you really look at the facts and the history of coal, particularly in the last 25-30 years--how we've been mining it--- it would be funny if it weren't so serious. Mountain top removal as a means of mining is almost comically absurd in its short-sightedness and in its devastation. If we were looking at it from another planet we would think what are these people doing? There's a fine line between stupidity and comedy, and insanity and comedy."�

Biggers, who blogs at the Huffington Post, performs in the play as a mysterious character named Harlan. In his newly released Reckoning at Eagle Creek and his earlier work The United States of Appalachia : How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America , he describes the political and cultural setting for mountain top removal mining and other forms of coal mining in the region.

Pistello said her work as an activist in D.C. setting up meetings between coal-field Appalachians and members of Congress has been a key source for her portrayal of Marie. "It was so important to me with this play that we just sort of show a snapshot of the lives of the people who deal with this"�

She said the play does not have an in-your-face, radical message. It's really a play about love: love for your spouse, love for your family, love for the land. And it's about what you have to do to hold onto your love."�

But even if it is a play with a strong political message, Slaybaugh doesn't seem to mind. "Some people seem to think that if you're trying to make your way as an artist, that it would be a bit of a liability to get a reputation for one political slant or another. We don't feel that way. We feel that it may even be an advantage. You find that in theater pretty often. I'm thinking that pretty much any major city--and I'm including Cleveland and Cincinnati in that--has at least one group that comes out and declares itself the socially active theater company. Maybe it's just the fact of the matter that your chances of financial success are so small anyway, you might as well go ahead and do what you believe in."�