by Eliza Anderson
Firehouse Theatre Project, Richmond, VA
This staged reading was my second time approaching Eliza Anderson's 1992 play, the first being a 2005 reading at Virginia Commonwealth University. In the previous iteration, two of the same actors were used; this time I cast a third actor rather than performing in it myself.
The Water Principle is a fairly obscure play, having been produced professionally fewer than a dozen times. It tells a very simple story with unadorned language: a woman named Addie lives in a shack on a dying piece of property, defending her land from a homicidal real estate developer named Weed when a drifter named Skimmer arrives and upsets the fragile balance. Everyone plays everyone against everyone else to get their simple goals. It's an acting teacher's dream: each character has very straightforward goals and a variety of tactics they use to get them, from brute force to seduction to logic to offers of food and water. The script reads a bit like Shepard with all of the adjectives edited out, with a healthy dollop of absurdism in places.
My 2005 Addie and Skimmer, Sarah Jamillah Johnson and Jeffrey Cole, respectively, reprised their roles in this staged reading, joined by Richmond's most beloved actor, Scott Wichmann, as Weed. We focused on the characters' three very different perspectives on faith: Addie believes in the existence and importance of her underground river completely and without question, and is willing to do anything to protect it. Weed believes only in what he can do with his hands, whether it be to build a wonderland or kill, and no action is to terrible for him to contemplate. Skimmer believes in nothing, preferring not to think beyond his next meal, and just wants everyone to get along. By the end of the play, Addie is a martyr, Weed a killer, and Skimmer has finally made a decision.
The set was a simple trio of chairs UR, with the actors always present in the space, stepping forward when they were in the scene. DL sat the narrator, Stacie Rearden Hall, reading Anderson's stage directions with a storyteller's tone. With no lighting changes, we ended each of the play's 20+ scenes with a snippet of music by Sam Phillips, the perfect atmospheric and lyrical complement to the play's desolate environment.The actors froze in their moment of scene-ending interaction, then returned to their seats while Stacie established the next scene.
Scott is a very busy actor, and was only available for two rehearsals, so our production was simple out of necessity. I opted to eschew blocking of any complexity in favor of setting up simple rules, focusing on the play's beautiful language and the wonderful abilities of my actors to create human connections, and then allowing the actors the freedom to follow their impulses. The result was a production called "surprising and delightful" by the reading series' producer, and "beautiful and fascinating" by the Artistic Director.
All photos courtesy of Stacey Mills of Green-Eyed Photography
|Addie (Sarah Jamillah Johnson) "could get more relaxed." Skimmer (Jeffrey Cole) is too hungry.|
|Addie doesn't want to hear what Weed (Scott Wichmann) has to say.|
|Weed paints a picture of a Wonderland.|
|Addie and Skimmer.|
|Skimmer and Weed become "partners."|
|Addie talks to her river.|
|Addie sits with the Narrator (Stacie Rearden Hall) as the final scene unfolds.|
|Weed gives Addie a lollypop so she'll listen.|