Friday, October 14, 2011

"The Weight of Water": Buoyant and Beautiful

Review by Greg Waagner
The sound of water is not unusual on Cape Cod.   There’s the sound of the waves on the shore,  a sprinkler in the garden,  the battering rain of an all-out nor’easter against the windows.  Those are all lively sounds of water, and not at all the sound theatre patrons are met with when they enter the Provincetown Theater for Myra Slotnick’s new play, The Weight of Water.    This sound is a heavy, lifeless one.   It is the sound of standing water lapping idly against steps or walls where it does not belong,  water that must be waded through.   Water in which…things …are floating.
On stage before us we see the battered and broken remnants of a home, still wet with receding flood water, a high water line of mold beginning to form on the debris of ruined furniture and books and appliances.  The scene is illuminated in saturated color:  the green of nausea, the purple of a bruise, the orange-gold of a baking sun.   Only as the lights fade to black does one realize they are also the green, purple and gold of Mardi Gras.   A blast of raucous jazz confirms we are in New Orleans, at a time when far too many saints went marching in.   It is nine days after Miss Katrina.
We first meet the Musician, played by Linda Daniels, who sets the scene and plays a sort of framing sequence/chorus role throughout the show.   She’s a resident of the city of New Orleans, but also its free spirit, it’s wild musical heart, and she guides us through the evening, seasoning it with bits of story and song.
This particular disaster zone on the stage before us is the St Bernard’s Parish home of widow Pearl Haynes,  who has survived the hurricane landfall and subsequent levee failure.   As we meet Pearl – portrayed comfortably by Geany Masai – she presents a brave face and steady faith, reflecting on the past as she mops at the water on her kitchen floor and worries for her missing cat.   It’s hard to imagine anyone enduring the onslaught that has brought her home to looking this way.  Flashback scenes introduce Pearl’s late, hard-drinking musician husband, Emery and we realize that Katrina is only the latest challenge in Pearl’s life, and before much longer, we see it’s not the last, either.

Having survived a devastating visit by the forces of Nature, Pearl must now face a home invasion of another kind in the form of rescue worker Finch, who breaks down the door to get inside to save her; a saving Pearl is not at all sure she wants or needs.  Andrew Clemons’ Finch is a nervous bundle of helpless energy,  an out-of-work actor from L.A. who’s come to Louisiana to help, only to find he’s less capable of doing so than he imagined.   “Is this your first disaster?” Pearl asks of him, and as his story pours out, it appears that Pearl will need to rescue him instead of the other way ‘round.
As Finch brings news to Pearl of what’s been happening in NOLA since the storm , the audience is reminded of the helplessness and horror of watching the disaster unfold on the television.  His accounts of the horrors of the Superdome seem to shake Pearl’s faith and understandably so:  she tells him she sent her pregnant daughter to shelter there.  Finch’s – and the also the Musician’s - witness brings back in searing detail some of the particulars we’ve so eagerly forgotten in six years.
Despite the “heavy” nature of the play’s subject matter - or more likely as welcome antidote to it - Slotnick’s script makes comic gold of the conflict between Finch’s bumbling ineptness and Pearl’s calm self-assuredness, particularly in the first act.   The introduction of Finch’s rescue partner, Natalie (Jamie Heinlen), changes the tone of things a bit in Act Two and we’re reminded there’s far more to a person than what they choose for the world to see.   Rescuers can be Scavengers, a Hardass can be Vulnerable, the Drunk can be Responsible, the Criminal might just be a Victim and the Truth is rarely what its purported to be. 
Reactions to the stress of a disastrous situation bring out the best and the worst in people – all the good and bad things at once - and as Slotnick explores this human landscape, perhaps she helps us to see that its not so much what Life gives to us, but what we make of what we are given that determines ultimately whether one sinks or floats.
The Weight of Water is blessed with a talented and delightful cast all around, each fitting just right against the next ; however  particular notice goes to  Keith Amato’s brief but heart-renching portrayal of The Man, which continues to haunt after the show’s conclusion.  
Technical praise goes to the light and sound designers for Water, Mike Steers and Jeffrey Billard, who eclipse the sun streaming through Pearl’s damaged roof with a passing helicopter and make the audience believe there’s six feet of stagnant water backstage. 
Every good show succeeds on the often-invisible work of its director, and David Drake surely earns mad props for blending all aspects of this world premiere production in just the right way.
You’ll be sorry if you miss this.

The Weight of Water is presented Thursday through Sunday, October 13 – 16, 2011, at 7:30 pm.
The Provincetown Theater is located at 238 Bradford Street, Provincetown MA.
Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for students and seniors.     Call (508) 487-7487 or visit for more information.

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