The Saturday production of the play “Water’s End,” written and directed by Christina Carrafiell ’20, was an admirable effort. “Water’s End” features the original story of a blooming romance between a Roma girl, Delilah (Carmen Clarkin ’20), and a forester, Jake (Branson Rideaux ’20), along with the transient lives of characters Sam (Jason Doukakis ’20) and Perry (Zulfiqar Mannan ’20, a staff reporter at the News). The title of the play is based off of the fantastical substance Luca, which “they find pooled within a forest [and that] takes them to a dreamlike location: ‘Water’.” The overall concept is refreshingly creative, hinting at current and historical political events through sound recordings of news broadcasts from Holocaust-era Germany and modern-day Aleppo. Through Luca, the characters experience fragments of their memories, spliced with top-notch deliveries of mournful monologues. The subject matter is increasingly relevant and forces the audience to reflect on human rights atrocities of the past and the present.
The production opens with a monologue, a stunning song performed by Clarkin’s character, Delilah. She guides the preliminary scene through a series of movements by the other actors, who are voiceless but dynamic. The small space of Off Broadway is transformed into another era in time. As the characters develop relationships with each other and Luca, the memories intensify. Mannan delivers a memorable performance as Perry, a trembling runaway who wanders into the forest with the others. In one particular scene, he strips down to his boxers on stage in a moment of authentic vulnerability, moving the audience with his monologue of fear set in WWII Germany.
Unfortunately, despite uniformly stellar performances by the actors, the script itself was too lackluster to meet the demands of the serious message it sought to convey. There were several disconcerting moments of forced romantic dialogue between Delilah and Jake, including a minute-long segment on the subtleties of “morning wood” in relation to the latter character’s forestry career. Although Rideaux and Clarkin established chemistry as actors, their ability to sell romance was stunted by uncomfortable humor and conversation. There was another cringeworthy moment where the young Jewish boy, Mannan, is escorted to the concentration camp showers and told to “just pretend it’s acid rain,” which is sold as an attempt to comfort the child.
Although I appreciated the playwright’s voice, the credibility of the story is undermined by numerous gaps and inconsistencies in overlapping story lines. The script also missed an opportunity to capture the sociopolitical nuances of Roma culture and interrogate damaging stereotypes. Overall, although “Water’s End” is a smart endeavor with great vision, it fails to deliver the emotional punch that it teased. The disconnected plot and pervasive anachronism established an immediate sense of incoherence. In fact, even though I consulted multiple audience members to confirm certain plot points in order to validate this review, there were differing opinions on what was happening in each scene, further exemplifying the general sense of disjointedness.
In fact, given any other subject matter, the play could have been a success. The two original songs, written by Carrafiell and Mannan and performed by Clarkin and Mannan, were nicely put together although the second was startlingly out of place. Although this play had several positive aspects including the original songs and acting talent, the underlying narratives lacked depth and clarity — both vital to storytelling concerning sensitive topics.