The goal was to create a collaborative piece of theatre that disrupts the notion of how and where and why storytelling can happen, that invites theatre artists of color to bring the entirety of our imaginations into conversation with each other and see the ways in which we can tell our stories outside the frameworks that are generally imposed upon us.
So describes two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage of The Watering Hole, which she created and conceived with Miranda Haymon. It’s an arresting assemblage of contemporary water-themed artworks that were intended for the Frank Gehry-designed Pershing Square Signature Center. Ms. Nottage’s goal has succeeded.
For 80 minutes, small groups of masked patrons are led by a masked guide through staircases, lobbies, theaters and rehearsal rooms, stopping to experience ten sprawling creations. The totality of this event is provocative, playful and stimulating.
There are installations, written words, video projections, and recorded spoken word. One setting is intended as a break area where patrons can dance or play with beachballs. Other interactive projects involve writing answers to questions and pinning them to a piece. To give specific descriptions of these clever inventions would be to spoil surprises. This one is memorable and representative of the exhibition.
The instillation called Wings and Rings was created by Emmie Finckel, Ryan J. Haddad and Riccardo Hernández, with audio description by Stefania Bulbarella and Finckel. A patron is seated looking at a projection of the sky and the watery floor. Then there’s video of a pool and we meet Mr. Haddad wearing a red bathing suit and he swims. Through visual imagery and voice over biographical narration we learn about his family and that he is physically challenged. The unison of the various elements is moving and transfixing.
The other participating artists are Christina Anderson, Matt Barbot, Montana Levi Blanco, Amith Chandrashaker, nicHi douglas, Iyvon E., Justin Ellington, Vanessa German, Ryan J. Haddad, Miranda Haymon, Phillip Howze, Haruna Lee, Ms. Nottage, Campbell Silverstein, Charly Evon Simpson, and Rhiana Yazzie. The cast featured in videos are Michael Braun, Francis Jue, Denise Manning, Kenita Miller, Lisa Ramirez, Samy Younes and Liza Zayas.
In the wake of the pandemic and political unrest, The Watering Hole is a welcome and thoughtful communal diversion.
The Watering Hole (through August 8, 2021)
The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-244–7529 or visit http://www.signaturetheatre.org
Running time: 80 minutes