Thirst: Memory of Water
nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
March 27, 2010
A meditation on water and women's relationship to it, Thirst features a wide variety of puppetry forms, and a compilation of perspectives/experiences relating to water or its lack.
Upon entering the theatre, before seeing anything, the sound of water dripping and pouring becomes audible. There is a group of women on stage incessantly washing clothes, each woman in front of her own basin. The sound of water from the one basin actually filled and the repeated action of washing have a somewhat hypnotic effect as they continue on.
What comes next is a mock synchronized swimming sequence; all the women dawn flower petal bathing caps (designed by Spica Wobbe) and assume an energy that immediately exudes "leisure class." The choreography by Hillary Spector seems intentionally out of alignment here, considering the precision of many of the puppetry scenes. The transition from women working their hands to the bone washing clothes into this Esther Williams, all-smiles, slow-and-easy-bath-time-fun dance, provides a clear and effective class statement in relation to water. Although this dichotomy reemerges from both ends (a woman in a petal bathing cap returns, as well as a number of women from impoverished communities), a political statement does not appear to be the focal point of the piece. A monologue from a well-known social activist drives towards social consciousness, but remains one perspective amidst a multitude of stories and voices. A speech from an Ethiopian woman also sticks out positively.
The diversity of puppets is truly astonishing. The feeling of never knowing what is coming next aesthetically partially helps make up for the lack of connected development. Puppet design by Jane Catherine Shaw (also director and writer) includes: a giant balloon baby in the womb, paper cutout men at work on a tunnel, fish rod puppets, and a full size Bunraku Indian woman, just to name a handful.
Much of the text was taken from actual people and published documents such as Leonardo Da Vinci's Treatise on Water. The final monologue about a cancer-stricken grandmother begging for a sip of water that the doctors have forbidden her is beautifully written and performed. Kristine Haruna Lee really owns this piece, making it the most emotionally connected segment in the production.
There are moments addressing the scarcity of clean water as a resource in the developing world, but the production attempts no "statement." A patchwork structure, with a broad scope of content, Thirst is a worthwhile experiment, if not ultimately the most successful as a result of trying to do too much. Which I must say is far better than doing too little!