'Way of Water' digs into rage, pain, and touches of hope

Hope Cervantes, H. Adam Harris, Eric Sharpe and Emily Zimmer in The Way of Water.
Hope Cervantes, H. Adam Harris, Eric Sharpe and Emily Zimmer in The Way of Water.
Photo by Tony Nelson
Caridad Svitch's play about the struggling victims of the 2010 BP oil disaster positively crackles with raw rage. In a nameless Gulf Coast town, four characters struggle with the ramifications of the environmental and economic fallout that followed not just in that event's wake, but years of erosion to the economy and the safety net.

Rage is a good starting point for creation; it provides clarity and energy to the story Svitch wants to tell. It can also easily spin out of control, leaving the stage loaded with dire pronouncements of doom or Powerpoint-like lectures. Thankfully, the playwright and the company in Frank Theatre's production avoid those pitfalls by breathing full life into these people who struggle and fight at every turn against their situation.
The two couples include Jimmy and Yuki, a pair of fisherman, and their wives, Rosalie and Neva. The disaster at "Big Pig" -- and the massive cleanup effort -- has left the waters around their town nearly devoid of the fish they need to make a living. The struggles in the economy mean work is hard to come by in any matter. At one point, Rosalie notes that all the food they have in the house is a pair of Hot Pockets and popcorn.

Worse, everyone around them is getting sick. As the play begins, a young man has died after simply swimming in the polluted waters. Jimmy at first tries to hide his condition, and then says over and over again that he can't afford to see a doctor. A spectacular -- if a bit gross -- moment at the end of act one proves that this is true, sending the couple into a deeper financial and emotional hole.

Each character tries to find ways to deal with the pains. Yuki (Eric Sharp) spends more and more time down at the daily protests. Jimmy (an absolutely terrific H. Adams Harris) struggles to keep his good humor as disease wracks his body. Rosalie (Hope Cervantes) and Neva (Emily Zimmer) try to keep their houses in order. That's especially tough for Rosalie, as the dire financial straights she and Jimmy are in means that the property under their feet is about to disappear, leaving them homeless and with a grand total of $5 to show for years of hard work.

The company, along with director Wendy Knox, create a full, immersive experience that is a touching, heartfelt, and painful descent into the world of its characters. It's a wake-up call about the struggles of folks who live out of sight, mainly used as positional footballs by politicians trying to score points. There's even a little ray of hope at the end. Not that things will suddenly get better like a fairy tale, but that the characters -- despite everything arrayed against them -- will continue to fight and persevere. 


The Way of Water
Now through September 30
Playwrights' Center
2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
For information, call 612.724.3760 or visit online
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The Playwrights' Center

2301 Franklin Ave. E.
Minneapolis, MN 55406


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