Play Previews: ‘Wade in Da Water’ and ‘Livy in the Garden’

Eliza Going ’18
Staff Writer

Two installments of the New Playreading Series will be performed in Acting Studio 1 of the Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre at 7:30 p.m. in the coming weeks. The plays are “Livy in the Garden, written by Ellen W. Kaplan and directed by Hannah Sachs ’16 on Feb. 18, and “Wade in Da Water, written, directed, and performed by Monique Robinson ’09, on Feb. 23. Both shows are free of charge and open to the public.

“Wade in Da Water” follows the fantastical trial of Hurricane Katrina, a character, sued by the United States Federal Government for creating yet another mess to be cleaned up. “Gods, politicians, news anchors as well as regular folk are summoned to testify” when Hurricane Katrina agrees to be tried under the one condition that the trial will eventually lead humanity towards “healing, awareness, forgiveness and a requiem for the dead.”

Before the trial, she reveals her true identity as Orisha Oya, the goddess of hurricanes, transition, and guardian of the graveyard. In the Yoruba religion practiced in southwestern Nigeria and neighboring Benin, an orisha is a spirit linked to one of three “manifestations of the Supreme God”: Olodmare, the Creator; Olorun, the ruler of the heavens; and Olofi, the “conduit between heaven and earth.”

This play will intrigue and excite as well as challenge our notions of religion, power and justice.

Robinson, winner of the Yvonne Sarah Benhardt Prize for her contribution to the productions of Smith’s theatre department and the Samuel A. Eliot Jr./Julia Heflin Award for directing, graduated in 2009 with theater degree to become a working actor in New York City.

As part of the New Playreading Series by the Smith College Department of Theatre, this performance will consist of excerpts of the full play before its anticipated fuller-scale production. The series is nearing its third decade honoring pieces created by alumnae, Five College Denis Johnston Playwriting Prize winners and Smith MFA graduate playwrights.

“Livy in the Garden, written by Ellen W. Kaplan, an acting and directing professor at Smith, tells the story of pregnant and “terrified” Livy about to give birth. Within a dream about a fairy-tale forest, she meets older, and wise women who teach her ancient birthing rituals. These rituals, and the presence of a group, create a sense of togetherness not seen in modern birthing practices. The importance of female community of these older times and the close link between nature and regeneration are vivified in this dream.

Kaplan wrote the play from a place of post-partum sadness. She experienced little support in giving birth to her two children, and through her play explores the comfort and empowerment seen in these ancient practices. After doing extensive research, says Kaplan, “The point I came away with is that for many thousands of years, birth rituals involved the entire female community and honored the [Paleolithic and Neolithic] Goddess, who was understood to be Nature herself.”

Another staged reading of the play will take place on March 12 in Malta, where “ancient tombs and ritual centers still exist underground.  In Maltese caves we see figures that represent the Birth Goddess, and there are egg-shaped rock-cut tombs which represent the Goddess’ womb,”  said Kaplan.

The play was started by a collaboration of great writers at the renowned Sewanee Writers’ Conference in the summer of 2014.

Sachs, the director, is a Fulbright candidate recommended by Kaplan, and has directed several plays in the past at Smith, including “Time Stands Still,” Smith’s first studio production in 2014, “Metamorphoses” by Mary Zimmerman during the fall semester, and her own play, “Krása, to be performed in March.

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