One wouldn’t think a play that deals with the wreckage left behind by a natural disaster would be particularly attractive to North Bay residents right now, but Sharyn Rothstein’s By the Water speaks to what our community is going through. While it’s set in 2012 on New York’s Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy, the human and material devastation portrayed might as well be set in Coffey Park today.
The show opens with Marty and Mary Murphy (Mike Pavone and Mary Gannon Graham) returning to what’s left of their storm-ravaged home to begin the process of rebuilding. Word comes that the government may be offering buyouts to the residents, as long as 80 percent of the neighborhood is willing to sell. The Murphy’s son Sal (Mark Bradbury) and their best friends, Philip and Andrea Carter (Clark Miller and Madeleine Ashe), are all for getting out, but Marty is resistant.
Actually, Marty is more than resistant, as he recruits his other son, Brian (Jared Wright), to actively campaign against the buyout. He speaks of family and community and history, but there’s another reason for his intransigence. That reason just may do the job that Hurricane Sandy couldn’t and finish off the family.
Rothstein’s script is Arthur Milleresque in its examination of a middle-class American family in economic crisis. The shadow of Death of a Salesman hangs over this production, with its floundering patriarch, long-suffering-but-loyal wife, sons whose lives took different paths, a financially supportive friend, family secrets, etc. But Rothstein has effectively updated the story and added a few layers, though some, like a subplot involving Brian’s rekindling of an old flame (Katie Kelley), feel superfluous.
Director Carl Jordan has an impressive cast with leads Graham and Pavone terrific as spouses whose relationship is put to the test, not by the disaster, but by what it reveals about the family. Bradbury and Wright do well as the siblings who have their own issues but whose love for each other is clear. Madeleine Ashe delivers the most devastating line in the play—a single sentence that speaks of the desperation and frustration that many in this community now feel: “I’m 60, and I have nothing.”
The pain in that line was palpable, and yet it was also cathartic. By the Water is not a story of natural disaster, but of human resilience. It’s our story.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
‘By the Water’ runs Friday–Sunday through April 8 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Friday–Saturday, 8pm; 2pm matinee, Sunday; Thursday, April 5, performance at 7:30pm. $16–$28. 707.588.3400.