The action of the play centers on the picaresque adventures of Henry Hitchcock, a Union Army deserter, and Will Hill, a runaway slave with whom Henry has journeyed to the north. They join the traveling circus run by a flamboyant impresario named Bartholomew Van Amburgh, who wants to make Will, the newly freed slave, the centerpiece of his sideshow. A shrewd capitalist ringmaster, Van Amburgh is obsessed with money and machines—the sinister harbinger of the increasingly industrialized nation which will arise from the ashes of the Civil War. The irony of the play is centered on the question of how such "growth and progress" will benefit the country and what quality of life—and freedom—it will provide for its citizens, black and white alike. Along the way Henry and Will encounter, and debate with, such personages as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and even Abraham Lincoln—with results that are both comic and dramatic, and which foreshadow the dilemmas and disorders which we are still struggling to resolve in our own time.
A brilliantly inventive allegory, which uses the colorful metaphor of a circus to explore the perils and problems which beset America in the post-Civil War period. Provocative and theatrically vivid, the play has become a favorite among the nation's leading regional professional theatres. "PLANET FIRES, Thomas Babe's towering new play, triggers passionate discourse, theatrical awe, and an uncomfortable lesson in history." —Dallas Observor. "Babe's play is a gaudy allegorized extravaganza, presenting post-Civil War America as a traveling medicine show run by a villainous Barnum named Van Amburgh." —LA Times. "…the author's most striking play…" —NY Times.