BWW Review: BY THE WATER at South Camden Theatre Company is a Play about Hurricane Sandy to Keep Your EYE On
While Hurricane Florence slammed the eastern seaboard with wild wind and torrential rain, another hurricane has just hit the waterfront in Camden, NJ. It was a dark and stormy night on September 7th when Sharyn Rothstein's play about Hurricane Sandy, By The Water, opened at South Camden Theatre Company. Artistic Director of SCTC Raymond Croce Sr. referred to the weather before the show announcing to the audience, "You wouldn't believe how much I had to pay for it to do that!" Though the dreary weather definitely felt like this was going to be an immersive play, once inside the theatre, not even the downpour outside could put a damper on the evening.
By The Water is the penultimate production in SCTC's 13th season celebrating female playwrights. And this coming weekend, South Camden Theatre Company will be closing the curtains on its regional premiere of Sharyn Rothstein's emotional and heartfelt play.
By The Water takes place in January 2013. Hurricane Sandy has just ravaged the lifelong Staten Island home of Marty and Mary Murphy (played by Russ Walsh and Susan Dewey). But the storm has ripped apart more than just the walls: with their neighbors too devastated to stay, the couple's beloved community is in danger of disappearing forever. Determined to rebuild, Marty wages a campaign to save his neighborhood and his home, but when the Murphys' sons arrive to help their parents dig out, past betrayals come rushing to the surface. With fierce compassion and poignant humor, By The Water reminds us that the very powers that tear us apart can also bring us together.
Rothstein's play is well-crafted and earnest. It beautifully depicts the push and pull in the relationship between past and future making the audience question whether it is an attachment to the past or a fear of the future that makes us feel paralyzed in our current situation. In the play, Marty makes it a point that he wants to stay though Hurricane Sandy heavily damaged the house and all but wiped out the neighborhood. But it is not just an attachment to the property that prohibits him from conceding to a government buyout, but a fear of the unknown.
Rothstein's By The Water is a play that hits close to home both metaphorically and literally. We have all, at one point or another, felt the same fear of what lies ahead as Marty and his family face. It is a very visceral fear. And that is why audiences can understand and empathize with what the Murphys' are experiencing. I personally know several families that had homes obliterated by Sandy. A couple of which still do not have permanent residences of their own even to this day. South Camden Theatre Company audiences can relate to this story since so many in South Jersey were affected by the hurricane. Even those who had no power-outages or fallen trees or collapsed roofs still felt and saw the devastating effects of the hurricane in our South Jersey area during that time.
When you enter the theatre, Robert Bingaman's gut-wrenchingly accurate scenic design is eye-catching. Bingman details the interior of a house which has been filled with about four feet of water. The walls are stained with a line depicting the height of the water level. The upstage wall is stripped down to the frame, partially covered with a tarp and showing some insolation while the living room furnishings are all askew. The house is crumbling, dramaturgically reflecting the crumbling of both the Murphy's community as well as their own family. But the hope that the Murphy's can survive and rebuild is there, represented by an almost ironic "Home Sweet Home" sign by the doorway.
By The Water is directed by Scott Grumling. In his director's note, Grumling writes "My hope is that By The Water moves you in ways you might not expect. I also hope that you can connect to the strength of these characters and realize your human spirit can enable you to muster a steadfast determination along with the courage to stare down adversity in the face of despair."
I believe Grumling has achieved all of that. And he has more than just strong characters, he has very strong actors. Susan Dewey as Mary Murphy is endearing, charming and funny, (providing some refreshing comic relief in the play) while Russ Walsh as Marty Murphy is strong, certain and surprising (seemingly villainous until you become empathetic that he stuck between a rock and a hard place and is caught between his pride and what's best for his family). Alfie Mannino and Danny Donnelly as brothers Sal and Brian Murphy have great chemistry onstage and are both superb storytellers.
Rounding out the cast, playing the Murphy's longtime neighbors and friends, are Elizabeth Terry as Andrea Carter, Michael Tamin Yurcaba as Phillip Carter, and Aimee Theresa as Emily Mancini.
Most astounding to me besides the chemistry and strength of the ensemble was how the play felt personal to the actors, like it is not just a performance, but an authentic telling of an important story. That element of storytelling is key to successful theatre and really makes this production stand out from the crowd.
South Camden Theatre Compnay's By The Water features a beautifully crafted script in an intimate and heartfelt production. It is the perfect type of play to see at a small theatre on the waterfront on a rainy day. Though it is a heartbreaking story, it is relatable and filled with so much love, care and humor.
By The Water is more than just a story about a hurricane. It is a story about a family. It is a story about a community. And it is a story about survival.
By The Water plays through Sept. 23 at South Camden Theatre Company's Waterfront South Theatre in Camden, NJ.
Up next on the SCTC stage is Lynn Nottage's Crumbs From the Table of Joy, running from November 2-18.
For more information about By The Water and to purchase tickets, please visit www.southcamdentheatre.org