Buried: The Sago Mine Disaster

Written by Jerry Starr

Music by Anne Feeney

Directed by Dale Morris

I recently attended a reading of “Buried: The Sago Mine Disaster” as part of the San Diego 6th@Penn Theatre’s Resilience of the Human Spirit Festival. Lately the news has been filled with stories of mining disasters, so I felt this was a must-see performance. I wasn’t wrong.

Each day we hear of the human costs of what’s called the extractive industries in a global economy. Playwright Jerry Starr crafts his characters in the context of a capitalism hungry for a greater rate of profit, the multiple risks of newer and deeper mines and a the Bush administration’s weakening of mine safety.

Sponsored by the United Mine Workers of America, the play focuses on the wives and daughters of the miners killed and maimed at the mine in Sago, W.Va., on Jan. 2, 2006. These are women who fight like hell for the living, blasting through the walls of gender and class. Like the heroine in the movie “Salt of the Earth,” these are women who rise up and bring others with them. The result was to bring about the most sweeping overhaul of mine safety regulations in decades.

As if by design, there are recurrences of the number 12 to remind us of the lives so needlessly taken away from us at Sago. Twelve is the number of people on stage who use the exact words given to the press and at the subsequent hearings to flesh out the characters, recreate the story of Sago and dig up harsh truths. Twelve is the number of songs sung by folksinger/agitator Anne Feeney to provide a musical bridge between the opening, the scenes and the closing. Her soundtrack to this docudrama, like the writings of the dying miners, will move you to anger, to tears, to joy and maybe even to action.

Using the public record to create a work of art in the service of social justice has been blossoming in the film industry of late. Creating coalitions of organized labor, theaters and the socially conscious to move a message, and subsequently the people, is definitely a renaissance whose time has come. The entire production at 6th@Penn came at the right time and in the right circumstances to do just that.

This production was union-made from top to bottom and included the UMWA/AFL-CIO report on the Sago mine disaster. After attending the reading and flipping through the report, I was struck by a sameness coming out of the open pits of the mine owners, the media and government officials regarding the current disasters in the extractive industries. The main characters in “Buried” humbly accept the limitations of their accomplishment. It remains for the rest of us to continue their fight.

To find out where you can see this play, or to get a production of it in your area, e-mail Jerry Starr