Flint’s Public Theater cullud wattah unpacks and informs – Times Square Chronicles
The bottles hang like dirty wind chimes signaling, not a gentle breeze, but a devastating, poisonous storm spewing all kinds of trouble in and around this multigenerational story at the heart of cullud wuddah, an indictment heavily framed by Erika , thoughtfully complex. Dickerson-Despenza (shadow / earth). The gripping new drama, directed by Public theater, sinks deep into the Flint water crisis that most of us know about, but haven’t really drunk the cullud wattah which sits casually on the edges of this household. It’s a new experience, learning about tragedy that the esteemed playwright pours out in a seemingly hypnotic and trance-like way. At first the drama resonates in a dreamy landscape of sleepwalking black women dressed in white standing at the center of this struggle, but as it progresses the play retreats into a more standard structure, chronicling all the results. cancerous to be poisoned by your own politicians and leaders. But in this first script, the room sparkles in the dark, echoing Greek Revival tragedy for all of us who know so little about Flint beyond the obvious. The symbolic trance wears off quickly, however, revealing a more opaque and straightforward drama of real-life situations and utterly heart-wrenching complications.
Drawing strokes on the walls as she counts the days in white chalk, the meaning of these lines throughout the theater doesn’t register or become clear until later. That is, until the troubled widow and single mother, Marion, played heavily by Crystal A. Dickinson (Broadway’s Clybourne Park) must stand up straight after everything she has seen and done. It is, in essence, the Greek tragic center; a General Motors employee, desperate to keep her job through thick and thin and trying with all her might to keep her family from sinking under the weight of all this dirty water. It’s not easy, surrounded by memories of a lost husband and father, but she does her best on the inside. She is focused and determined to bring up her teenage daughter, Reesee, well. Beautifully performed by the fascinating Lauren F. Walker (MCC’s Charm), this queer young person of color prays daily to the Yoruba deity for the salvation of drinking water in hopes of helping both her own infested body and her little sister, Plum, brilliantly performed by Alicia Pilgrim (Purchase Rep’s Mr. Burns, …), thrive and survive her battle with leukemia.
Sharing the space and stage with this tense family is the bumper sticker of Marion spitting a mother’s firecracker, Big Ma, put to good use by Lizan Mitchell (Broadway’s Electra), and Marion’s troubled sister, pregnant and single Ainee, played forcibly by Andrea Patterson (Detroit Public’s Paradise blue), a recovering drug addict who balances being cautious and optimistic about her seventh pregnancy, as the previous six haven’t come to term. Her storyline crumbles, gushing into the most emotionally forged stunt, flooding the room with the complications of personal and political decision-making.
As directed with a natural and straightforward approach by Candis C. Jones (Detroit Public’s Pipeline), cullud wattah lays out a solid agenda for unboxing and dumping the public health crisis that has happened and is still happening in Flint, playing his cards almost too prophetically for two hours and fifteen minutes (with an intermission). The engagement rings, too, but the layers sometimes seem as forced as the overloaded uber-symbolic set design of Adam Rigg (NYTW’s The house that won’t hold), with solid costumes from Kara Harmon (MTC The Niceties), lighting by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew (TheaterWorks Hartford’s Walden), and sound design and composition by Sinan Refik Zafar (Broadway’s What is the Constitution …).
Naming names and the dangerous act of believing in God is what lurks under the small shattered planks of this heartbreaking drama. “I don’t wanna die in dirty water, exclaims a character, exhuming the abstract secret of faith and the complications that exist within this family. top tier game, mostly because of the much lived-in authentic performances of this stellar team of actors and artists.
It’s been 2,784 days (the day I saw this show) since Flint, Michigan, put clean water in his faucets. And Dickerson-Despenza wants us to know what that means, for this family and for the world beyond. There are people who knew what was going on and the consequences of their inaction. They must be held accountable and cullud wattah does not intend to let us leave the Public not knowing all the details of these illegal acts. For that, I am completely grateful, for this piece and this production. It’s a powerful showdown of a family in turmoil, mostly because of greed, systematic racism, and political corruption, and director Jones wants us to feel the thirst for justice as fully as possible.
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