“By the Water,” a play about a family dealing with the aftermath of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, will have its regional premiere at the Waterfront South Theatre in Camden on September 7, 2018. Written by New York City-based playwright Sharyn Rothstein, “By the Water” has been called a “Superstorm drama” by Time Out (New York), “a first-rate play” with a “bittersweet ending” by The Huffington Post, and “a solid play about a dissolving world” by The New York Times. It’s part of the theatre’s current Celebrating Female Playwrights season, entirely dedicated to work by women.
The South Camden Theatre Company is the professional resident company at the Waterfront South Theatre. We recently spoke with SCTC’s Artistic Director Raymond Croce, Board President Robert Bingaman, and actor and director Scott Grumling about bringing “By the Water” to an audience all too familiar with the impact of Hurricane Sandy.
Culture Vultures: “By the Water” played very well with audiences and critics in New York. Why did the South Camden Theatre Company decide to produce it in New Jersey?
Raymond Croce: This play was just a perfect fit for us for a lot of reasons – not just the story, but also because this season – our 13th season – is a celebration of female playwrights. My first show here as Artistic Director was “Water By the Spoonful” by Quiara Alegría Hudes, and after that, I thought it would be great to just devote a whole season to female playwrights, and hear from women on the stage. Scott brought me this play, and I read it in one sitting. Then, I immediately read it again, and I just I knew it was perfect for this season.
CV: So, Scott, you sort of championed this production at the Waterfront South Theatre, and you’re the director. What can you tell us about “By the Water?”
Scott Grumling: The play was written by Sharyn Rothstein, and it was done Off-Broadway in 2015, and we’re the first company to bring it to South Jersey. The play is about Marty and Mary Murphy, a Staten Island couple in their sixties. Their community has been decimated by Hurricane Sandy – almost completely destroyed. Their house is still partially intact, but many of their neighbors have lost everything. What happens is, when their two estranged sons come to help them, it brings the tensions within the Murphy family to the surface, and a lot of old wounds are reopened. On top of that, the entire community is on the verge of dissolving as many of the Murphy’s neighbors are debating whether or not to stay and rebuild, or to leave and start over somewhere else.
Sharyn Rothstein has said that the play is about the Murphy’s deciding to stay or go, but also deciding whether the family should stay together or go their separate ways. It’s really sort of a throwback to the classic kitchen sink dramas – like Arthur Miller plays about people chasing the elusive American Dream – but she made something very contemporary, very timely. Because these characters did achieve some version of the American Dream, but then Hurricane Sandy comes along and takes it from them. I mean, Sandy happened in 2012, and people in this region are still in the process of recovering.
CV: Had you been aware of Rothstein’s plays before embarking on this project?
SG: Yes. All of her plays have a lot of heart, and, as a playwright, she is very interested in creating characters who are realistic. And she is also very interested in social issues. These are very strong characters fighting for their dignity, which is something we can all relate to. I just really had a strong reaction to this script, this play, and was just really happy that Ray and Bob felt the same way about it.
CV: So, Bob, you are Board President of the theatre company, and the set designer?
Robert Bingaman: Yep, I’m also the set designer. Right now, we’re very close to being done. The cast is already rehearsing on the set. The bells and whistles still need to be added – the elements that make it feel real. But the set is there, ready for production.
CV: Opening night is Friday, September 7. Scott, as the director, where are you at in terms of your process?
SG: We’re currently running consecutive scenes. This play is 13 scenes, no intermission, and it runs between 90 and 100 minutes. So, it’s just one scene after another. Earlier in the process, we would work on scenes non-linearly, but at this point, we’re rehearsing them in order – like, six scenes one night, seven the next night. The actors are ready, and we’re moving into tech rehearsals soon.
RB: And this cast is amazing. To be able to produce such a brilliantly written play with such a masterful cast and crew is very exciting for us.
CV: Did the fact that New Jersey was one of the states that Hurricane Sandy hit hardest have anything to do with the decision to produce this play here?
RC: Oh, absolutely. New Jerseyans were really affected by Sandy, and that fact was just yet another great reason for us to do this play, on top of many other great reasons. Like Scott said, people are still hurting from Sandy. They’re still fighting their way back. There are many people who are still unable to go home because they can’t afford to rebuild their homes. And we hope that this play honors them, and also keeps the conversation going – because even though the storm happened years ago, people are still dealing with it.
SG: I think the audience will really identify with these characters. In the wake of a natural disaster, or any tragedy, the human spirit is really resilient. We move on, and we hope, not knowing how things will turn out. So, my hope is that, even if the people in the audience haven’t ever gone through something like that, they’ll be able to sort of feel what it’s like – and feel empathy for people who have – and ask themselves what they would do in a similar situation. When something like Hurricane Sandy comes along and takes away everything you have, you’re forced to make some extremely hard choices. That’s what you see playing out on stage in “By the Water.”
RC: I agree. Theatre is a way of holding up a mirror – it’s a way of looking at aspects of life that we might normally avoid looking at directly. And, as Scott said, we all have that resiliency within us – even if you’ve never been tested. And too many people have been tested in ways that are unimaginable. I think these characters – the way they’re written and the way they’re being brought to life by the cast – are really going to ring true for people.
RB: One of the things that we always try to do is produce theatre that moves people – that will truly move you to cry, laugh, to really bring out your emotions. And “By the Water” really does that.
“By the Water” runs from September 7 – 23, 2018 at the Waterfront South Theatre in Camden. For more information and tickets, visit www.southcamdentheatre.org, or call (877) 811 – 4111.