“…lead/ in thuh wattah/
lead/ in thuh wattah cheeldrun/
lead/ in thuh wattah/
snyder playin god/ with wattah..."
We hear this spiritual as if it were a funeral dirge at first, and threading throughout the story. Later, we hear it like a muted Jimmy Hendrix rendition akin to his National Anthem—acid soaked and dying.
A young girl (Demetra Dee playing Plum), white clad and wearing a turban, walks like a zombie as this song swells. She carries chalk that in some other play and some other life might be used to make a hopscotch grid. Not so in her world—because instead she uses that chalk to mark the days that her family and all in Flint, Michigan have gone without clean water.
We soon learn that she wears a turban to hide her baldness, a side effect of the chemo she has received to cure her leukemia. As her mother (Brianna Buckley playing Marion) fits her with a pigtails wig, she turns and asks if she is going to die. Channeling a resilience that may be her birthright but nonetheless astounds, Marion holds her daughter and says calmly, “..I don’t know..”
It’s a first moment of many moments when the surface story cracks like an earthquake fault line. We are living with two adult sisters, their mother, Marion’s teen child and her younger sister, Plum, in what seems like typical middle-class surrounds, save the water bottles reminding of a landfill, and the many shades of colored tap water in bottles and beakers scattered throughout their home.
Woman energy infuses their banter. It’s girl talk about pregnancy, romance, and recipes.
It’s always there. We never get the dirty water and its cullad wattah double meaning out of view. We later cringe when we consider that Plum’s math lessons come in the form of tallying the number of water bottles it will take to cook Thanksgiving dinner.
Truths begin to spout into the story like geysers. One sister wants to take on the powers that have poisoned their homes and bodies; the other sister wants to keep on keeping on as best she can, working at the local GM plant, and afraid to rock the boat.
Sisters doing battle with one another’s selective memories is not a new plotline. These battle royales, however, both give the tragedy of Flint a human face and pack in an encyclopedia of exposition in easy-to-digest format. You too may have thought you followed the news about Flint, Michigan and understood the crime of environmental racism for what it is. But wait—did we know that lead-infused “cullad wattah” is still on tap? And wait—did we consider that the characters in this play are REAL and already referenced in dry lawsuit lingo that never made it into the headlines?
Victory Gardens Theater’s Artivism
There’s no canard like saying a mass shooter shouldn’t have had a gun, or should have had mental health interventions. This murder and maiming in Flint Michigan continues to this 2984 and counting day.
Marrying art and activism — artivism — is much ballyhooed of late. In this writer’s view, Victory Gardens Theater, playwright Erika Dickerson-Despenza, Director Lili-Anne Brown and this super talented cast show the world what this really means.
There are 2984 and counting reasons to see this play. Be forewarned you will leave the theater full of rage and challenged to find a way to convert it into action.
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Demetra Dee as Plum
Brianna Buckley as Marion
Ireon Roach as Reesee
Renée Lockett as Big Ma
Sydney Charles as Ainee
By: Erika Dickerson-Despenza
Directed by: Lili-Anne Brown
Scenic: Sydney Lynne
Costumes: Christine Pascual
Hair/wigs and Make-up: Jessica Seals
Hair/Wigs and Make-up Consultant: Rueben Echoles
Lights: Jason Lynch
Associate Lights: Trey Brazeal
Sound: Willow James
Props: Caitlin McCarthy
Stage Manager: Sammy Brown
Assistant Stage Manager: Jojo Wallenberg
Show is cancelled -- read the Victory Gardens creative team statement here.
Victory Gardens Theater
2433 N.Lincoln Avenue
For more information and tickets visit the Victory Gardens Theater website.
Photos: Liz Lauren
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.