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A CurtainUp Review
A Twist of Water
By Zoe Erwin-Longstaff

“If Richard had hit an ice patch this year instead of last year, I could have gone back there [to the dying Richard’s hospital room], and Jira and I could be at each other’s throats for better reasons.” — Noah
Stev Tovar
(Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
“Chicago is ‘Chicago because of its water” begins Noah Caldwell, our nerdy protagonist. This, along with Sujan Steven’s Illinois, playing as the pre-show music, is hardly subtle. We get it.

Twist of Water is a play largely concerned with making the windy city look good. The consummate neurotic dad and preachy high-school teacher, Noah, played by Stef Tovar, loves to lecture us about Chicago. Indeed, there will be many more such potted history lessons throughout the play, especially insofar as Noah can use them as soothing analogies to the turmoil of his own life, and particularly to the strife he is experiencing as a recent widower.

Noah's daughter Jira (Falashay Pearson), resents everything about him, from his compulsive over-nurturing to his passion for the humanities. She pines for Richard, her other father who died in an automobile accident, Richard, the charming and understanding one, was a doctor, just as she would like to be. Bereft and alienated, Jira decides that she wants “more family” and petitions Noah to sign the forms required to put her in contact with her birth mother. Beyond its promotional focus on Chicago, this portrait of suffocating parental relations and over-the-top teenaged angst serves as great propaganda for conservatives, demonstrating how unconventional families are just as screwed up as the rest of us.

Not content to suffer his loss passively, Noah — a.k.a. “Mr. Caldwell” — seeks solace with Liam, a younger colleague. Liam’s risky come-ons, for all their lack of subtlety, are especially appealing. Indeed, with Noah’s raw neediness on display, a surprising “twist” is suggested. Perhaps, his feelings for Liam have been too intense for too long.

Unfortunately, the implications of this potential betrayal are not developed in the arresting ways they might have been. Nevertheless, A Twist of Water hits its emotional stride in the second act, with the introduction of Jira's birth mother Tia (Lili-Anne Brown). Tia handles herself with a certain assuredness while discussing Jira with Noah, only to dissolve into pathos once Jira enters the room. Some poignant moments of mother-daughter bonding follow, before Tia cowers back into obscurity. Witnessing the wreckage, Stef Tovar’s Noah is particularly effective as a parent trying to shield a vulnerable child from heartbreaking disappointment.

Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss (playwright and director respectively), who developed their play in Chicago’s Route 66 Theatre, are fortunate to have found an ideal New York home in Theater B at 59E59 Theaters. The set itself, with its pervasive gloominess, does appropriately make us feel under water. A large tongue-like slab of a wall juts out on raised stage left. Stage right, on lower ground, has just a conventional wall with a door center. They serve as backdrops for the city and landscape projections crafted by lighting designer John Boseche. This works well for outdoor scenes. But for school and home interiors, not so much.

Although the historical linkages that echo throughout A Twist of Water can feel forced, one in particular does resonate. “If Richard had hit an ice patch this year instead of last year,” Noah confides to Liam, “I could have gone back there [to the dying Richard’s hospital room], and Jira and I could be at each other’s throats for better reasons.” He goes on: “History was just a bit tardy for me, but the law’s changed. It won’t happen anymore.” This minor bit of historical solace strikes the right note.

A Twist of Water could certainly benefit from some tightening, but, while it has its share of flat dialogue and missed opportunities, the authenticity of its characters’ emotions is unmistakable. In particular, it does an admirable job of portraying both the callousness of teenagersm and how sometimes, for a parent, to love is to put up with contempt. Most importantly, even those who know Chicago’s history will not be immune from its cruelties.

A Twist of Water
< Written by Caitlin Parrish, story by Caitlin Parish and Erica Weiss
Directed by Erica Weiss
Cast: Alex Hugh Brown (Liam), Lili-Anne Brown (Tia), Falashay Pearson (Jira), Stef Tovar (Noah). Set design: Stephen Carmody
Costume design: Alarie Hammock
Lighting design: Sean Mallary
Sound design: Lindsay Jones
Stage Manager: Julia Zayas-Melendez
Running Time: 2 hours including 1 intermission
59E59 Theaters
From 11/01/12; opening 11/07/12; closing 11/25/12.
Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM and 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15;; added performances on Sunday, November 4 and Sunday, November 25 at 7:15 PM. Tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members)
Reviewed by Zoe Erwin-Longstaff at at Saturday November 3rd press preview
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