In Tira Palmquist’s The Worth of Water, two sisters, Elle (Clare Latham) and Rebecca (Christianne Greiert), have struggled all their lives to find common ground. They’re forced to come together by their meddling mother Ethel (Kim Crow) to a “mermaid camp” to celebrate her 70th birthday.
All three of these women come with a conflict: Elle, a singer-songwriter, hasn’t been able to sing; her agent Dusty (Miranda Noelle Wilson) has forced Elle to make the trip. Rebecca, a homemaker and mother of three, tries to pretend her marriage isn’t empty. Ethel, a recent widow, fights to emerge from the shadow of her dead husband, Vern (Michael Billingsley).
Other journeying women at the mermaid camp include an intense and intuitive DJ (played in this performance by Becca Ballenger) and a quirky and mysterious Nix (Morgan Sullivan).
Clutch Productions’ goal of producing/supporting works by women is in clear force here with the selection of this play, its established director Mêlisa Annis and multi-produced playwright Tira Palmquist. Palmquist weaves many female empowerment narratives throughout the work, and for the most part, her script provides opportunities for the actors to richly establish their characters. A couple of exceptions to this are in the part of Elle’s agent, which Wilson valiantly tries to flesh out in spite of the flatness of the role, and the two stereotypical male characters of Vern and Nero appear to be even more shallow due to their both being played as stereotypically male by Billingsley.
Both Greiert and Crow’s characterizations don’t quite reach the full potential of their roles; Greiert’s performance is largely two-dimensional, resorting to indignation and eye-rolling irritation with predictable frequency. Crow’s depiction of the liberated, carefree mother figure is often annoying and overbearing, without taking advantage of the script’s opportunities to choose endearment or nurture.
Sullivan’s idiosyncratic Nix is stilted to the point of distraction, but her enigmatic character is eventually explained in the most delightful revelation. Sullivan’s briefest moments in the alternate role of Gina allow the actor to release Nix’s affectations and be real, fresh and heartfelt.
Ballenger as DJ and Latham most of all as Elle provide the most fully developed, provocative and evocative performances in the piece. They listen keenly and seek connection through eye contact to a maximum.
n spite of some good acting and potentially rich moments, the play ultimately undoes itself by attempting to cover too much material in one evening. The actors are forced to jump through the hoops of missing funerals, bad marriages, adultery, poor communication, sibling discord, parental aging, emotional block, misplaced commitment, holding on, letting go, on and on, setting up such an accelerated clip of emotional whiplash that much of the dialogue is rendered incredulous. Perhaps some better pacing under Annis’ direction could have delivered more believable transitions between these themes, resulting in more organic moments overall, but the play could stand to have some of these themes removed in order to allow more realistic transitions for the actors.
Rocky execution aside, the play is not without humor, imagination, charm and whimsy, and the same can be said about the designs by Jessie Bonaventure (scenic), Johanna Pan (costumes), Kelley Shih (lighting), and Brian Heveron-Smith, (sound), all of which work well together to allow this tale to be told. The play’s wonderfully emotional climax which has Elle, Rebecca and Ethel casting off the shackles of their lives into the winds of an oncoming storm is absolutely jubilant and makes the entire evening worthwhile.
“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” Thomas Fuller
The Worth of Water (through October 20, 2019)
HERE, 145 6th Avenue (Enter on Dominick St., 1 Block South of Spring St.), in Manhattan
For tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit https://www.clutchproductions.org/theworthofwater
Running time: 85 minutes without an intermission