by Sarah Fogarty, graduate student at University of Nebraska at Omaha
On April 10th in coordination with the graduate seminar course Women by Women, we held a staged reading of Caridad Svich’s The Way of Water. We had a small but very interested audience, comprised of students, faculty, and community members.
My experience with the play began earlier in the semester, during the first few weeks of classes. A fellow graduate student told us about the reading scheme after Caridad sent an email to her and our professor, Dr. Cindy Melby Phaneuf. We had the wonderful experience of producing another one of Caridad’s plays, 12 Ophelias (a play with broken songs), in December at UNO. Cindy also directed Caridad’s play Alchemy of Desire/Dead Man’s Blues this past summer for the Great Plains Theatre Conference, so we have enjoyed a close relationship with Caridad and jumped at the opportunity to be involved.
Cast as Neva, I was initially drawn in by the beauty and rhythm of such self-described, “back of the woods” people like the Robichauxs and Skows. There are so many stereotypes of such individuals (I am all too familiar with country bumpkin stereotypes being originally from Kentucky), that I think is hard for dramatists to paint them as anything more than caricatures. But this was different; I immediately connected with each one of them, especially Rosalie, who I felt for so much that I was afraid my heart would break.
For me, the play wasn’t so much about the issue of the BP Oil Spill; it was more about the way that we, as humans, deal with a disaster, of any kind. During rehearsals, we discussed how people try to learn as much as they can about their current situation, even if they have very little formal training in the subject. All the characters became actively involved in learning about their situation and devising solutions on how things might be fixed. When I was little and my grandpa was dying of cancer, I remember my father and mother painstakingly remembering the details of what the doctors told them, thinking that maybe if they understood what was happening biologically, it might make them feel better. But the science of it never makes it more human; it just distances us from our soul.
The moments that affected me the most were between Jimmy and Rosalie; especially when Rosalie describes the sweater that Jimmy bought her at Target: even though it was too expensive, he bought it anyway because he knew that she wanted it. Even the not so tender moments between Rosalie and Jimmy were heart wrenching, when Jimmy accused Rosalie of spending money on lipstick at the Dollar Store, or when he accused her of mismanaging the finances when he was in the hospital. Rosalie goes on to describe the lengths to which she went to make ends meet, though in the end, it wasn’t enough.
In a post-reading discussion with the graduate seminar class, we extended our discussion of how this play can live in many different worlds. There are startling similarities between the oil spill and mountaintop removal in Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia where coal mining companies have literally been blowing the tops off mountains with little concern. It is amazing to think of how little the cost of not only our Earth, but also animals and other human beings means to these large companies. And we, by relying on coal and oil are contributing to the problem. When will it stop? Will it ever stop? Is there not anything that can be done about it? “Just keep on the keep on” Yuki says to Jimmy, but is that enough? Can it ever be enough?
This play is full of strong emotions as well as unanswered questions. Sometimes I think it would have been easier if I hadn’t read it, then I wouldn’t feel so conflicted inside: what can I do about this? Anything? Is it any of my business? Is it a hopeless cause? Even though I hate that I am conflicted by this, it makes me feel a greater appreciation for the human spirit and mother earth, and I am motivated to help protect them: Ignorance isn’t always bliss, even though it wants to be.
The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read on April 10th, 2012 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, directed by Dr. Cindy Melby Phaneuf. Actors included Zack Jennison (Jimmy), Thais Flait Giannoccaro (Rosalie), Colt Neidhardt (Yuki), and Sarah Fogarty (Neva).