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The Way of Water at Ensemble Studio Theatre

by Zac Kline, playwright, bookwriter, and screenwriter

Something magical happens. Yes, there’s the magic of a man spewing fish from his mouth as the lights go down on Act One. There’s the magic of the beautiful language that comes from the four characters on stage as if pouring directly from their hearts, and the magic of people holding fast to a belief that this country can change, and that they can change this country. But the real magic, the true magic comes from honesty. Caridad Svich’s The Way of Water is one of the most honest pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time. It is honest in that it chronicles a place in flux and a people in flux and honest in that its characters are hurt by life, and hurt by love and when faced with a choice - stay or travel to different waters - the path ahead is rough either way.

By my estimation no one lies in The Way of Water. Characters say they are not sick, when they are, characters say they have had breakfast, when they have not. But they just say the little things that get us through the day, or from one hour to the next, but they do not cloak the truth in untruth. Characters speak: We don't have medical insurance ... There’s only five dollars in the house. That's pain. That’s the truth of life without recourse. That’s raw. That’s real. That’s what we don’t see enough of on our stages. We teach our young playwrights, “show don’t tell,” and maybe that’s true a decent bit of the time, but what The Way of Water does is something special because it shows us these four characters, as they’re living, how they’re living, but it tells us to cling fast to hope, to protest, to keep struggling just to struggle through another day. 

Leaving EST I could not help wonder if the four characters knew Stephen Foster’s great American hymn Hard Times. ... “Hard Times, hard times, come again no more” … If they sing it to themselves as they fall asleep at night, if they quietly hum it driving out of town. I caught a reference to a Foster disciple Bob Dylan’s song, “Don't Think Twice, It’s All Right” at the end of the play, but was reminded of another Dylan lyric from much later in his career. In a 2001 song Summer Days Dylan wrote: 

Standing by God’s river, my soul is beginnin’ to shake
Standing by God’s river, my soul is beginnin’ to shake
I’m countin’ on you love, to give me a break

The four characters in The Way of Water are doing just that: counting on love, counting on hope, counting on American to give them a break. The water is their life, the town is their life, America is their life, love is their love and they all have let them down, and all inspire them in some broken way to keep going. As Leonard Cohen would say, “There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in,” and as that crack gets larger and larger, that is how the lights gets in, all the more light. That light? That’s theatre, that's truth, that’s honesty, that's the way of water.

The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read at Ensemble Studio Theatre on May 29th, directed by Jose Zayas.

Zac Kline is a playwright, bookwriter and screenwriter. He has several full-length plays in development. Future projects include: A multimedia project and non-fiction book on the works of Bob Dylan in connection with the American legal system.