For the first hour or so of (Not) Water, the audience sits in a large circle in a very large room. The actors present, in a disjointed flow, vignettes representing the process that led to the production. We meet the artists and watch some fictitious scenes and hear some stories, even some stand-up. The show, we learn, was conceived in 2006, and following years are marked by climate events – a 2007 flood in India, a 2008 snowfall in Baghdad, Hurricane Sandy. There’s a song about a mop – “The mop cleans everything, but no one cleans the mop” – that’s clever if rather off the point.
So far, the show is intriguing but uneven. Then the lights go out, and we’re told to evacuate the theater. Hurricane Gwyneth (a fictitious hurricane) has caused a power outage. We leave the theater, staying in the building, and we’re ushered into a small space with a single actor, and for about a half-hour he delivers a monologue. The actor – a terrific actor – is Mike Shapiro. He’s playing a man who’s been hunkered down since the disaster – the hurricane – hit the city. The rats have drowned.
The character – listed in the program as Crafty Cook – tells us about his mental health (or illness), his taking drugs, and his setting up a food business, and he feeds some of us a bit. It’s well written and interesting, but what’s important is Mr. Shapiro’s performance. His emotional flow is subtle, his relationship to us is clear, he never falls into cliché. It’s great work!
A few audience members are ushered into another room – a bathroom, actually – to hear another monologue. Originally, the audience was meant to be divided in half, but the logistics of the space prevented this.
At the end of the monologue we’re led back into the large space, which has been redesigned. We spend quite a while under the sort of canopy that’s suspended from the ceiling representing water. Most people are lying down on small air rafts. There are ambient music and sound effects, and it’s all a lovely, peaceful tribute to H2O, although it goes on rather too long.
Before the show we wrote notes about our experiences with water and gave the papers to the staff. Now, at the end of the show, these notes are distributed and some members of the audience read them aloud. It’s clever.
Early in the show, one of the performers says “We’re not just making pretty things here. We want to motivate people to act.” We don’t really feel motivated to act when we leave. The show was too fragmented to do that, and the final segment was too pleasant. Disunity, in fact, is the production’s strength. The various moments we’ve enjoyed contrast in a way that sharpens the experiences. We’ve seen some very creative work.
(Not) Water – a cryptic name – is part of a month-long inter-disciplinary event focused on water called Works on Water, at 3D Technology Center. The stage show is presented by New Georges with 3D Technology Center in collaboration with Guerilla Science. It was written by Sheila Callaghan and directed by Daniella Topol. The large space is turned from a gallery into a performance space just before the show, and we enjoy seeing what remains of the installation outside the circle of audience – videos on the walls, and canoes hanging from the ceiling. A marvelous use of space.