Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What is "The Water Principle" about?

I'm directing a staged reading of an amazing play by Eliza Anderson called The Water Principle, which performs at the Firehouse on Tuesday night at 7:30. (Here's a link to the Facebook event. You're invited!) Jeffrey Cole, Stacie Rearden Hall, Sarah Jamillah Johnson, and Scott Wichmann are the cast, and I'm unbelievably thrilled to be directing them; they are four of my favorite artists and people, and I haven't directed any of them in years. In fact, the last time I directed Sarah, it was for a staged reading of The Water Principle at VCU in 2005, wherein she met her future husband. Neat.

It's a somewhat obscure play by a little-known writer, and the only people I know who are familiar with it are people I've exposed to it. So when I mention that I'm directing the show, people often ask, "What's it about?" I usually come up with some kind of plot synopsis about a woman named Addie defending her property from a real estate developer named Weed when a drifter named Skimmer happens into the area. That's an accurate surface description. But it's not what the play is about.

The Water Principle is about Addie, a woman defending the last vestiges of life in a barren land. She lives in a shack with a pan, an axe, a shovel, a rain barrel, and a few bird traps. Why she is alone there we don't know; why she feels compelled to defend the remains of life in her demesne we are not told. It's about Weed, a man who wants what Addie has, who may be willing to do anything to get it. It's about Skimmer, who walks from place to place with his hand out, spinning whatever story he needs to get a few moments of security--until he gets bored and moves on.

The Water Principle is about faith. It's about Addie, who believes fiercely and unquestioningly, about Weed, who believes only in what he can build, and Skimmer, who doesn't want to believe in anything. It's about betrayal. It's about how we make alliances with whomever can give us what we need this moment, without any thought for what it will mean for our lives in the future.

It's about snow, cheese, and what it means to be a beaver. It's about an axe, a gun, and a single bullet. It may or may not be a post-apocalyptic survival thriller.  It's a love story in which the words "I love you" are never spoken.

It's a playground for actors. The text is incredibly open to interpretation, and any number of choices can be justified and committed to. Sarah, Jeff, Scott and Stacie are all making wonderful and bizarre choices with this strange little play as we focus on the text and human interactions rather than blocking and stage pictures. The script reminds me of Sam Shepard and T-Bone Burnett, with a healthy dollop of absurdism.

It's the music of Sam Phillips put on stage, all fragility and betrayal and sensuality and torch songs. If you love Sam, you really have to see this play.

The Water Principle is my favorite play of the past 20 years and it's a privilege to direct a reading of it for a second time. I am incredibly thankful to Eliza Anderson for granting permission, and to Billy Christopher Maupin, Carol Piersol and the Firehouse Theatre for giving us a stage to play on. I hope you'll come see it.


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