by Holli Harms
Water. We cannot live without it. Water is the gift of life. It must be clean though. It carries with it whatever it flows over and passes through. It carries bacteria, fecal matter, dirt, and dust, and can transport all sorts of diseases and carcinogens but we have municipalities overseeing its transport and quality. What happens when that is no longer true and you are unable to get clean water from the faucet in your home, or anywhere in your town, or the town over, or the town over? There is no clean water anywhere.
What happens is you get skin rashes and miscarriages and cancers and death. What happens is you’re forced to buy plastic bottles by the tons in order to clean your home, yourself, your hair, your dishes, cook your food, brush your teeth, make your tea, and just drink. We rely on corporations and government oversight committees and take the water in our homes for granted.
The people of Flint, Michigan found what happens when their water supply was contaminated by corporations and government and no one cared. No one cared because Flint is a lower-income town and its main population is people of color.
We see the information about Flint on the news, and the reports with dates and amounts of loss, and those numbers often mean nothing because it’s not us and it’s just numbers. Numbers have no emotional impact, but people and their personal stories do. CULLUD WATTAH now playing at The Public is the story of one of those numbers, one of those families from Flint. A three-generation family of five and how they manage daily life in this hell with no clean water. A family of five women of strength and courage, of fear and hope, with legs that stand with both feet solid on the ground supported by their faith, love, and anger.
The ways of water are the ways of these women. They are the doulas of life supporting one another, giving words of wisdom, a breath of life. When women go into labor their water breaks. Women are water. We are told, “ All Water got a temper” and, “ Water got a memory,” these are words of those women. These women flow and cleanse, they wash away that what needs washing away, they understand the life of water. They work with it every day as we all do.
Playwright, Erika Dickerson-Despenza, has created a family of five kick-ass women whom you will fall in love with. You will laugh with them and love with them. This tremendous ensemble will have you wanting to join them for a meal, for a talk, a dance. And when they argue, and they will, you will not take a side because Dickerson-Despenza has weighed the arguments so that we understand and feel both sides. You will be left wondering, What is the right thing to do? What to do when you cannot see into the future and do not understand the severity of even a simple choice? The arguments will leave you wondering, what would you do differently? What do you do now?
Candis C. Jones directing is a whirlwind of emotions and stories and silent moments of contemplation. She, the cast, and the crew are all aware of the important story they are telling of what happens when a country throws its hands up and walks away from its citizens. It reminds us how precious our lives are and what we take for granted: turning on the spigot on our sink and expecting clean clear water that will not kill us or our loved ones.
At the end of this beautiful powerful production, in the final moments, the actors leave an imprint that is stunning. This is a night out at the theater to remember for years to come.
CULLUD WATTAH -Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza, Directed by Candis C. Jones
CULLUD WATTAH features scenic design by Adam Rigg; costume design by Kara Harmon; lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew; sound design and composition by Sinan Refik Zafar; hair, wigs, and make-up design by Earon Chew Nealey; prop management by Corinne Gologursky; vocal arrangements by Justin Hicks; and movement direction by Adesola Osakalumi. Janelle Caso serves as the production stage manager.
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one 15 minute intermission.
Public Theater Partner, Supporter, and full-price single tickets can be accessed by visiting publictheater.org, calling 212.967.7555, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street.
On Tuesday, December 7 at 7:30 p.m., The Public Theater will host a Black community night for this performance of CULLUD WATTAH.
The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. (There is no 7:30 p.m. performance on Wednesday, November 24; Thursday, November 25; and Friday, November 26.)
CULLUD WATTAH closes Sunday December 12th.
The American Sign Language Interpreted performance will be at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 20. The Open Captioned performance will be at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 4. The Audio Described performance will be at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 5.
CULLUD WATTAH, a curated installation about the Flint Water Crisis has been installed on The Public’s Levin Mezzanine, along with a collection of books provided by The Free Black Women’s Library. Learn more about the installation by watching THIS video on The Public Theater’s Instagram.