Is it time to rebuild from the ground up, or relocate and start over somewhere new? This is a choice many people in Sonoma County have had to consider in the aftermath of the October wildfires. While it may feel like no one else understands, just remember: You are not alone.
Natural disasters continue to occur, changing lives. That was the case with 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, the topic of Spreckels Performing Arts Center’s next play, “By the Water,” written by Sharyn Rothstein. The story focuses on a devastated neighborhood.
“It’s a very compelling family drama,” said Artistic Director Sheri Lee Miller in a phone interview. “I’m so jaded. It’s very hard to surprise me, and this play surprised me.”
Miller has been around the block, acting and directing most of her life, and holding her present position at the theater for the past seven months.
She stirred some controversy last August for canceling her first show at Spreckels and the season opener, “The Foreigner,” a farce dealing with the Ku Klux Klan, shortly after a white supremacist rally sparked violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
For Miller, this production hits much closer to home — right in Miller’s backyard of Coffey Park to be exact, where her house survived, opposed to more than a thousand homes that were destroyed there in October’s wildfires. Yet she had chosen the play well before the fires, because of how powerful it was to her, and since it hadn’t been done in the area.
“It parallels ‘Death of a Salesman’ quite a bit,” said Miller. “That got me very excited. I did not see the twist coming near the end of the play. I loved that.”
The play centers on the fictional character Marty Murphy, dealing with the aftermath of the destruction of his grandfather’s home by the hurricane. The Murphys are at an age where they thought it was time to start relaxing a little, but despite being in their 60s, they want to rebuild, and face conflict when their neighbors, friends Phil and Andrea, opt for a government buyout.
Community becomes the central theme of the play, as the audience discovers how these people are motivated to stay put for various reasons, or — quite the opposite — feel compelled to move forward. Local theater lovers may relate all too well.
“Theater is all about developing empathy,” said Miller. “Whether you’re watching it, or performing in it, it’s about experiencing the world through someone else’s eyes.”
“By the Water” premiered on Broadway in 2014, two years after the hurricane. Miller described it as an intimate play with a small cast. It is mostly a drama, but there’s quite a bit of humor sprinkled throughout. However, there’s also the culmination of a tragedy’s impact.
More than possessions
Whether disaster comes in the form of an earthquake, hurricane, flood or fire, the end result often wipes away much more than material possessions. A lot of feelings come bubbling up within relationships, and sometimes this includes the emotional baggage people carry constantly.
“It uncovered a lot of underlying secrets, resentments and yearnings within this family,” said Miller of the play. “There’s the physical washing-away, and the metaphorical washing-away.”