Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Water Tribe by Don Cummings

Hannah Prichard and Christopher Reiling Photos: by Glover Burk Photography

By Joe Straw


After crossing the Sea of Reeds with God’s unforgettable help, the Israelites continued on into the wilderness of Shur.  Three days into their journey without water, their mood turned ugly.  The water at Marah was too bitter to drink.  They groused and God instructed Moses to sweeten the water with a piece of wood, which he did successfully.  Exodus 15:22-25

On this particular night, one actor came out on stage eating during curtain call.  The compulsion to nourish his hearty soul couldn’t wait until after the polite applause. And whatever he was eating was a mouthful.  This visual cast a dark shadow on me and spoke volumes about his respect for the writer, for the director, his fellow actors, and for the sold-out house that came on this night. – Narrator

The Water Tribe, a world premiere play by Don Cummings, directed by Tricia Small, and Produced by Crystal Jackson and Liz Ross is now playing at the Vs. Theatre in Los Angeles through February 9th, 2020.

The Water Tribe is a play about uneducated, unemployed Americans, misguided and proud youtubers, with little chance of having a successful life. They try to bond, like water.

But there may be a cause to all this madness.

Johnny (Christopher Reiling) lives in a shabby single in an unnamed major metropolitan city. He is unemployed and has no prospect of employment anytime soon. In his apartment, he cares for his video games and has only one friend, a gamer living in Finland.  He doesn’t have college experience and his job prospects look mighty grim.  He reads books on occasion to facilitate his spiritual wants.

Claudia (Hannah Prichard) is Johnny’s slightly kinky and neurotic girlfriend who loves sex and loves to be bitten to enhance her erotic experience, bestial affinities, and other barbarous amusements.   

Together, they love takeout, watching YouTube videos of animals – animals that eat other animals that eat smaller animals that eat grass.  They also enjoy documentaries of female genital mutilation in Africa.  It possibly feeds their sexual appetites. This gives Claudia the idea of circumcising Johnny with a long sharp knife that is flung around in her careless hands.

“I almost dropped it.” – Claudia  

Johnny’s mother, Sydelle (Jayne Taini), frequently drops by the apartment. Like a doting mother, she has her own key, and comes by to deliver clean clothes to her son. Johnny’s father abandoned them long ago.   

Claudia doesn’t like Sydelle and, the less she sees of her, the better. And maybe Sydelle resembles Claudia’s mother, an abusive addict, who is in the hospital dying of cancer.  

Alexandra Daniels and Hannah Prichard

In another section of town, Sonia (Alexandra Daniels) waits and is suddenly accosted by Claudia. Sonia, pretty and nicely dressed, thinks highly of herself and looks down on Claudia.  Their relationship is not clearly defined but later we learn that Sonia is Claudia’s cousin.

Hannah Prichard and Jon Joseph Gentry

Later, Claudia is in her office with workmate Brian (Jon Joseph Gentry) and she presents him with a bottle of water as a gift, complete with bow, and that sets something in motion within Claudia about creating a group of friends, a tribe of people who meet regularly, a water tribe.

Even later, Claudia, addicted to her boyfriend, believing in conjugal harmony, asks him to marry her.  He says, “Yeah, I’ll marry you.” When Claudia is fired from her job, the marriage thing is on hold.

Don Cummings has written an offbeat quirky character drama.  Cummings tills the writer’s soil exposing an unearthed field, the barren aridity of lost souls, and the underbelly of civilization is on full display, which at times makes the audience writhe in their seats.  Sometimes it is hard to watch as this part of humanity collapses into ruin. The original work of art is certainly theatrical and something to ponder long after you leave the theatre. And, although the play elevates the senses, there is a desperate search to find meaning of people living in a vacuous state. And, that said, there seems to be missing material. At times, the humor of the sexual foreplay is interesting until Claudia’s mind takes a dark turn. There are two scenes of attempted circumcision, a son chasing his half dressed mother around in his apartment in an unzipped wedding dress, and a character that moves slowly toward irrationality. The sanity measure of her being is the idea of creating a tribe, a water tribe.

Tricia Small, the director, does some remarkable work keeping the pace moving, the actors in character.  One wishes the characters moved to a defined conclusion. Accents were missing and the place was not definite in the program or in the dialogue. There was not a strong through line and the characters sometimes floundered.  As one example, Claudia brings everyone together to create her water tribe and little by little these people turn on each other and Claudia does nothing physically, or emotionally to keep the water tribe whole. Sonia and Claudia’s relationship is not defined physically, or otherwise, so we are lost as to what is most important in that relationship. One very interesting theme here is that of the water. It is symbolic and should be represented in some form throughout the play; much in the way oranges are represented in the film “The Godfather.”  Tap water might explain why Claudia is emotionally disturbed, possibly bipolar and going through a manic phase, and could explain “why” the character behaves in this fashion.  That said, there were brilliant moments in this production.  

Alexandria Daniels as Sonia has a very good look but one wonders if a stronger objective could have helped her overall performance.  Now, her relationship to her cousin, seems secretive, a curious air of detachment, and there’s not much of an emotional or physical life to that. It appears that she cannot make it on her own. To get her cousin to come back home seems like a logical choice so she is not forced move to North Carolina.

Jon Joseph Gentry is a bit of a misfit as Brian.  Coming off of a broken relationship, he is amiable but more than a bit uneasy of joining this tribe. Gentry is solid in his craft and comes off real and honest. Excellent work!

Hannah Prichard has Claudia, growing in boundless melancholy and demonstrative affection, going from one extreme to another without reason. A stronger objective would help her and define her lack of mental acuity. Tap water may be the source of her strange behavior. Her ideas are uncomfortable and so it should be with her space – not respecting the space between her and all of her counterparts. If she wants to bond like water, she should bond with everyone, as uncomfortable as it may be to her counterparts.

Christopher Reiling is Johnny, a homebody who doesn’t want to go out and get a job. Reiling may have to do more soul searching to find out what makes this character tick. His physical life is interesting but one is not sure where he is going and how that connects to the theme of water in this play. (His reading of the Torah perhaps may reference water. I’m sure there are water verses in the Torah. See above.)

Jayne Taini is a lot of fun as Sydelle and has some wonderful moments.

Scenic Designer Adams James Glover has created a set that may be overburdened on the intimate stage of Vs Theatre with important street scenes far upstage right.  Lighting Designer Shara Abvabi creates an impressive city through the use of a projection and that works effectively well.

A lot of hard work went in to the creation of The Water Tribe.  Like water, with each subsequent performance, its movement should grow into a more cohesive and expansive body of work and culminate to small place where all should receive ablution.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Bella Vita Entertainment – Sound Designer
Michael Mullen – Costume Design
Maya Braunwarth – Production Stage Manager
Ken Werther Publicity – Public Relations
Adam James Glover – Assistant Director & Associate Producer, Key Art Design
Tyler Matthew Burk – Production Supervisor
Timothy Thomas Brown – Fight Director
Sharon Freedman – Front of House Manager

Run! And take someone you think is living on the edge.  You’ll both be enlightened.

Vs. Theatre Company
5453 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90019

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