By Sheila Callaghan; Directed by Daniella Topol
Produced by New Georges in collaboration with Guerilla Science
Off Off Broadway, Immersive / Experimental Performance
Runs through 6.30.17
3LD Art & Technology Center, 80 Greenwich Street
by Ran Xia on 6.17.17
Mike Shapiro and Ethan Hova in (NOT) WATER. Photo by Marina McClure.
BOTTOM LINE: An immersive, multimedia infused performance inspired by the world's water crises spanning from Hurricane Katrina to one's own personal memories.
Midway through (NOT) WATER, everything seems to shut down unexpectedly and the audience is directed to vacate the space. We shuffle down the dimly lit hallway before some of us are summoned towards one direction, and some another. Given a red sticker before the show, I end up in the women's bathroom with a few other audience members, where we are confronted with a scientist (Carmen M. Herilihy). In a state of general panic, she introduces herself as a water purification specialist, and proceeds to give out cups of clean water. We drink the water first, before realizing the circumstances we're in. The narrative slowly unfolds as Herilihy's slightly hysterical monologue reveals that we're facing the impending doom caused by the depletion of clean water. The water we each drank turns out to be purified from the scientist's pee.
This is the part of the performance where true immersion takes place, and I indeed felt the potential of a threat we might encounter in the near future. There is no way of knowing what other groups experienced, but judging from post-show chatting, it involved a smart chef synthesizing the smell of pancakes. If the team was going for the water crisis version of Sleep No More, these personalized experiences certainly did the job well.
Leading up to those sprawling and engaging moments, the first part of the show is concocted by many different elements. Starting with Sheila's (April Matthis) stand-up comedy bit, an idea quickly opposed by DT (Polly Lee), we go into a somber monologue set during Hurricane Katrina, in which a girl is stuck on her rooftop, watching the bodies of her neighbors float by, thinking about her past, and trying to ignore the overwhelming hunger. What is presented is more of the creative process of the show rather than any specific narrative: we go from a moving monologue of an Irish girl caught in a storm, to a whimsical scene in a boat in Norway where two lovers plan their future while drinking copious amount of water. We also see a musical performance that's the secret life of a mop. While each element serves its purpose within its own context, together they seem like a collage of ideas, none of which is completely fleshed out. The creative team seems to understand this as well. During a phone call, designer Ethan attempts to describe to his mother what the show is about, compiling a long list of subjects and relevant topics. I found myself confused by the piece stylistically as well as thematically.
It's all about water: its beauty, its fragility, and its destructive power. From Hurricane Katrina to Superstorm Sandy (which influenced the team personally), the spirit of water seems to drift along the creative process of the piece. If only the team would have formulated a more cohesive thread to connect all the dots, rather than staging every single idea that happened to occur in the rehearsal room.
The magical moments are reserved for the end of the show, when the audience returns to the performance space, except now we lie on beachside inflatable beds, and watch above us clouds made of plastic bottles. Cory Einbinder's glorious projection design along with Broken Chord's music eases you into a state of uncertainty and absolute contentment, before the lights go up once more, and memories of water are shared between a community of people who have just experienced something profound, albeit slightly perplexing.
((NOT) WATER plays at 3LD Art & Technology Center, 80 Greenwich Street, through June 30, 2017. The running time is 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:30 (Tue 6/20 at 8:30); Wednesdays at 8:30; Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays at 7:30 (Fri 6/23 at 4 and 9); Saturdays at 7:30; and Sunday 6/25 at 12:30. Tickets are $20 - $45 and are available at worksonwater.nyc or newgeorges.org.)
(NOT) WATER is co-conceived by Sheila Callaghan & Daniella Topol. By Sheila Callaghan. Directed by Daniella Topol. Associate Playwright is Liza Birkenmeier. Costume Design is by Ari Fulton. Lighting Design is by Barbara Samuels. Music and Sound Design is by Broken Chord. Video Design is by Cory Einbinder. Science Dramaturgy is by Rachel Karpf for Guerilla Science. General Collaborator is Susan Bernfield. Production Stage Manager is Danielle Teague-Daniels. Assistant Stage Manager is Andrea Jess Berkey. Audience Experience Producer is Megan Nussle. Assistant Director is Daniella Caggiano. Choreography is by Laura Diffenderfer. Associate Id/Gallery Lighting is by Daisy Young. Tech Guy Friday is Danica Martino. Assistant Set Designers are Daniel Como and Kate DiRienzi. Video Op is DeVaughn Shepherd. Master Electrician is Cody Richardson. WoW Environment Design is by Louisa Thompson. Environment Associate is Caitlyn Murphy.
The cast is April Matthis, Polly Lee, Rebecca Hart, Mike Shapiro, Ethan Hova, and Carmen M. Herlihy.