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A CurtainUp Review
By The Water

Bail out. The government isn't bailing us out. We're hardworking people. We deserve to keep our homes. You actually think they're gonna come in here, mow everything down and give it over to the birds and bees? Beautiful waterfront property? They're gonna pay us to get lost then sell it to some big deal millionaires.—Marty, who is fiercely opposed to his community's accepting the government's buy-out.

We have NOTHING. Not one dish towel. Not one spoon.There is NOTHING LEFT. Look at me. I am 60 years old.And I HAVE NOTHING.— Andrea, the friend and neighbor who, having lost everything in Hurricane Sandy, sees a government buyout as the only way to move on with her life.

. . . The house, this place, it's all he's got — Brian, the son who understands why his father is determined to rebuild his storm devastated house
No, he can't. That's what he doesn't get. He's just a dog, barking at the wind. . .— Sal, the more pragmatic older son
By the Water
Quincy Dunn-Baker & Deirdre O'Connell (Photo: Joan Marcus)
New York is an island and therefore ranks high in any list of metropolitan areas vulnerable to storms. Beach front loving home owners are no strangers to the damage a raging ocean can cause. But Hurricane Sandy was a killer storm, unlike anything residents of Long Island, Brooklyn and Staten Island ocean communities experienced.

After that super storm hit, survivors faced the question of trying to rebuild and stay, or accepting the inevitability of other devastating storms. Some communities like Breezy Point in Queens opted to rebuild, this time building on higher, less vulnerable ground. Residents of Staten Island's Ocean Breeze saw little hope for insurance and government funding to cover the cost of rebuilding. The majority therefore favored accepting buyout offers and using the money received to move elsewhere and count on the government to restore their destroyed community to its natural state.

Sharyn Rothstein's By the Water revolves around a family caught up in this all-too timely stay or go situation. Her setting is a working class Staten Island community that closely resembles Ocean Breeze.

While hard times tend to bring people closer together, they also create rifts among neighbors with differing opinions and exacerbate existing problems within a family. Rothstein's Mary and Marty Murphy (Deirdre O'Connell and Vyto Ruginis) and their neighbors and lifelong friends Andrea and Philip Carter (Charlotte Maier and Ethan Phillips) are no exception. It's their friendship fracturing differences and familial problem explosions that keep this fact-inspired drama whooshing along for an attention-holding 90 minutes.

The characters of this timely kitchen sink drama will bring back memories of Arthur Miller's Loman family: Like Willy Loman, Marty Murphy is a blustering, self-deluded, down-on-his luck fellow with a devoted wife and two sons. The Murphy sons, Sal (Quincy Dunn-Baker) and Brian (Tom Pelphrey), heat up the emotional tensions. In this case only the younger son spells trouble, troubles that can be traced back to the father as role model The older son's path has also been formed by the father's example, but for him that's meant choosing a different and better path. To further connect the Murphys and Carters, there's a history of a troubled teen affair between Brian and the newly divorced Carter daughter Emily (Cassie Beck).

Like Invested, the only other play by this author I've seen, By the Water grabs and holds your interest mainly because its characters talk and act like real people, not stick figures. The actors inhabiting them do well with the shifts in mood and personality. If the problems and conflicts tend to pile up and conclude a bit too schematically and predictably, Rothstein does so skillfully with enough humor to leaven the seriousness of these storm-tossed lives. Of course, it helps that the actors, top to bottom, bring their characters to vivid life. While the focus is on the Murphy family, Charlotte Maier and Ethon Phillips make invaluable contributions, as does Cassie Beck in the smallest role of their daughter.

Director Hal Brooks and his design team have supported the play and the performers with a visually and aurally effective production. The scene created by Wilson Chin that greets us when we enter MTC's smaller theater is more realistically chaotic than any of Sam Shepard's famous messy finales.

The mess of the Murphy home is intensified by Tyler Micoleau's eerie lighting. It's all so realistically hopeless looking that you can't help wondering how the Murphys can even consider getting it back into livable shape. Yet, compared to the Carters who are left with not so much as a towel, the Murphys are lucky since they still have a skeleton of a house that includes a refrigerator and a couch.

That first scene becomes even more of an unlikely back to normal scenario as we get to know the Murphys. It seems that the storm actually delayed exploding the life Matt Murphy is so passionate to hold onto.

Over the course of a week and twelve scenes an amazing number of familial and neighborly issues come to light. Rothstein allows her characters to grow and change. Hopefully, environmentalists can come up with more ways to change the continuing assaults on this nation's coastal communities.

By The Water by Sharyn Rothstein
Directed by Hal Brooks
Cast: Deirdre O'Connell (Mary Murphy), Vyto Ruginis (Marty Murphy), Cassie Beck (Emily Mancini), Quincy Dunn-Baker (Sal Murphy), Charlotte Maier (Andrea Carter), Tom Pelphrey (Brian Murphy), Ethan Phillips (Philip Carter).
Sets: Wilson Chin
Costumes: Jessica Pabst
Lighting: Tyler Micoleau
Original Music & Sound: Ryan Rumery
Dialect Coach: Ben Furey
Stage Manager: E. Sara Barnes
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
MTC's Studio at Stage II City Center
Tickets from $30
From 11/04/14; opening 11/18/14; closing 12/07/14
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 11/16 press preview
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