This week, the Brandeis Theater Company launched its first performance of “The Way of Water,” a play that movingly highlights the lasting effects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The play focuses on four individuals impacted by the spill and how they try to endure the horrific destruction of their home.
Jimmy (Meir Alelov ’15), the play’s protagonist, struggles to work as a fisherman in the contaminated Gulf, while ignoring health problems caused by the spill. His wife, Rosalie (Jamie Semel ’17), struggles to support Jimmy as he loses hope for the future and his health deteriorates. Meanwhile, his fellow fisherman and best friend, Yuki (Siddarth Mehra ’17), urges him to stay hopeful as the fish supply remains dry, yet Yuki and his wife, Neva (Jacquelyn Drozdow ’17), have a baby on the way that they will soon be providing for. The play follows the four on their difficult path as they come to grips with their new, grim reality.
Award-winning playwright Caridad Svich constructed “The Way of Water” from the true events that occurred in August 2010 in Plaquemines Parish, LA. Jimmy brings the audience closer to the incident, and closer into the lives of those affected, calling into question not the stories presented by the headlines and tabloids but rather the real and tangible effects of the spill. “It comes down to understanding and caring for an ecosystem that is vital—a shared understanding. In other words, don’t think of is as ‘something that happened in someone else’s backyard,’ but truly, deeply understand that it is all of our responsibility whether we live in Omaha or Houston or St. Petersburg or Swansea … No one is immune here,” Svich said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Svich’s play and the Brandeis cast have reminded us through their production that the 2010 disaster is not resolved and has not been forgotten by those affected, and we should not forget either. Even the program handed to the audience reminds us of the incident behind the play’s inception; a map of Plaquemines Parish marked the site of the incident on paper in our hands as we watched the plot unfold.
Mehra is a theater and business double major who has been featured in two other plays on campus, “A View from the Bridge” and “Stuff Happens.” “We are fishermen. Our entire community is based on fishing, it is our raison d’etre,” said Mehra in an interview. “Our entire livelihoods have been wiped out and yet [my character] still [tries] to see the light. The essence of my character is to lift [Jimmy] up and make him see the light.” Although Mehra and the rest of the cast certainly dressed the part and recited the lines of middle-aged families in Louisiana, the substance of the play was the challenge behind creating a successful performance. “You can see the poverty on our set; we even use a turned over bucket as a place to sit. In rehearsal we jokingly call it the ‘Vortex of Doom,’” he said.
Brandeis has the privilege of hosting Svich on campus through the duration of the show. Both Saturday night and Sunday’s performances will be followed by special talks with Svich.
“The Way of Water” will run this Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.