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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Rising Waters

I'd forgotten what it's like before the sun comes up. How calm, how peaceful everything can seem. — Sug I don't know you and I ever watched a dawn together— Camille
Rising Waters
Camille (Bev Sheehan) and Sugar (Jim Ligon) in Rising Waters
Katrina has come and gone. But even more fear, anxiety and uncertainly looms for the residents of New Orleans's low lying areas.

It's 2 AM and the one story home of Camille (Beverly Sheehan) and Sug (Jim Ligon) has already been breached by three feet of water. The middle-aged couple has taken refuge in the claustrophobic attic at the start of John Biguenet's play Rising Water. Unlike Camille, Sug is confident that water will soon recede. They are both concerned about staying up there for any length of time without light and food. Flashlights are found but scavenging for food among the boxes and crates proves futile.

While they speculate at length as to what might have caused the flooding, they are equally inclined to review their life together: the tragic loss of their daughter and their now estranged son. The situation prompts both Camille and Sug to exchange memories of dating each other, as well as the many regrets, and mistakes they have made during their years together. We see them bicker, console, even follow romantic urges. It is obvious that they are committed to each other and to a marriage that has withstood adversity.

With the steady rise of the water that will soon make its way to the attic, they realize they must attempt to get onto the roof by the only way possible, a small round vent. The problem is that only Camille is small enough to make it through the opening. Unfortunately, only Sug's head and one shoulder are able to get through the hole. The image of Sug with only his head sticking out onto the roof, passing the time with small talk, offers shades of plays by the master absurdist Samuel Beckett. There is nothing surreal or abstract, however, about their situation and it soon becomes apparent that help does not appear to be on the way. Camille sitting atop the roof begins to show her desperation, especially as Sug admits that the water has already reached his body.

Under John Pietrowski's sturdy direction, a modest amount of tension is created as Camille and Sug begin to face the reality of the moment. While Biguenet's play is commendable and certainly topical, it also lacks the kind of emotional peaks and dramatic twists that can keep an audience riveted. Perhaps the inevitability of the situation is hard to overcome. Could it be that Camille and Sug are just not interesting, idiosyncratic or confrontational enough to spark the action?

There is a glimmer of poignancy that comes near the very end of the play that is now having its NJ premiere, but by then wondering about their rescue becomes a moot point. Biguenet, a resident of New Orleans and an O'Henry award-winner for short fiction, has a flair for honest home-spun dialogue. He might have been served better by creating two characters that hated each other, but quickly learn what really matters under these conditions. But that's another play.

Ligon, who delighted audiences at Playwrights Theater of New Jersey with his deftly comical performance as Bob in Bob Clyman's Where the Sun Never Sets, may again be cited for another genuinely ingratiating performance. Sheehan, who has also been the artistic director of the What Exit? Theatre Company for the past 12 years is excellent as Camille. The attic space becomes the slanted roof courtesy the revolving stage and the craftsmanship of set designer Drew Francis. Other technical credits, including the sound of rushing water by Jeff Knapp, are first rate. Rising Water, a co-production with Shadowland Theatre in Ellenville, NY, coincided with a weekend series of plays written in response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

Rising Water
By John Biguenet
Directed by John Pietrowski

Cast: Beverly Sheehan, Jim Ligon
Set Design: Drew Francis
Costume Coordinator: Holly Budd
Lighting Design: John Wade, Cory Ryan Frank
Sound and Multimedia Design: Jeff Knapp
Running Time: 95 minutes with no intermission
Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, 33 Green Village Road, Madison, NJ. (973) 514 1787 X 10
Performances Thursday to Saturday evenings at 8 PM; matinees Thursday and Sunday at 3 PM.
Tickets ($27 - $30; $15 students)
Opened 10/10/08 Ends 10/26/08
Review by Simon Saltzman


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