One woman play as a celebration for Earth Day

On Sunday April 21 at 2 p.m, actor Kaiulani Lee presented her one woman play about environmental writer Rachel Carson titled “A Sense of Wonder” at the Botelle School in Norfolk.

Lee has been performing “A Sense of Wonder” for the past twenty-six years at universities, high schools, the Smithsonian Institute, the Albert Schweitzer Conference at the United Nations, and at the Department of Interior’s 150th anniversary. It has been used as the focal point in conferences on conservation, education, journalism, and the environment.

Also a highly regarded stage, television, and film actress, Lee has appeared in The World According to Garp, Cujo, Before and After, A Bird of the Air, The Waltons, Law & Order and others. She was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a play for Kennedy’s Children and received an Obie Award for Best Performance by an actress for Safe House.

“A Sense of Wonder” was introduced by Pastor Erick Olsen of the Church of Christ Congregational (UCC). Olsen spoke of the play’s importance as a featured event in The Norfolk Earth Forum and Norfolk’s Earth Day weekend, which celebrates Carson’s legacy. Additional programming included discussion of “Crossings” by Ben Goldfarb; a lecture on Carson’s continuing influence in the modern environmental movement, and a children’s pollinator program. Sponsorship was provided by Botelle School, Aton Forest, Great Mountain Forest, Norfolk Conservation Commission, Norfolk Land Trust and the Church of Christ Congregational (UCC).

Lee then took to the stage and explained to the audience how the play occurs in two acts, the first part set at Carson’s summer cottage on the coast of Maine and the second part from Carson’s home in Maryland. Lee “removed the third wall,” which refers to when a character addresses the medium in which they are situated, by describing the layout of Carson’s cottage.

Act one opens with Carson writing a letter to a friend and shows her reluctance to leave the coast of Maine. Sick with cancer, she worries this may be her last visit. But she also describes her joy at seeing son Roger play on the rocks by the ocean and reflects on her lifelong desire to be a writer and how her love of the natural world and science ultimately became her muse. Carson expresses how her deep love of nature inspired her activism to write about the US government’s use of the pesticide DDT and its devastation of the environment.

In act two, Carson is visibly weakened by cancer and arthritis, but urgently brings her message to Congress and the American people. She recounts the backlash she received from the petro-chemical industry, efforts to discredit and label her as “alarmist” but is steadfast in her beliefs which are founded in her love of nature.

After finishing her performance, Lee invited the audience to ask questions. She provided additional historical context, namely how the success of Silent Spring inspired President John F. Kennedy to order the Science Advisory Committee to examine the issues raised in the book, which vindicated both the book and Carson. As a result, DDT came under much closer government supervision and was eventually banned.

Carson died from breast cancer in 1964, but shortly before her death remarked, “Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself. We are challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”

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