A Twist of Water is a play about rebuilding and new beginnings, Chicago style. This stunning new work, written by Caitlin Montanye Parrish and directed by Erica Weiss who is also the co-creator, perfectly sets the tone for the re-opening of the Mercury Theater — a gem of a 300-seat venue next door to the Music Box Theatre which had been dormant for the past few months, and is now under new management.
Noah (Stef Tovar) is a recently widowed father of an African American daughter (Falashay Pearson), Jira. When Jira decides that she wants to seek out her birth mother, Noah’s already strained relationship with his child is pressed to the breaking point. As he struggles to hold on to and rebuild his family, a new romance with a younger man (Alex Hugh Brown) threatens to complicate matters, but may also help heal.
During the original run of Route 66 Theatre Company’s production at Theatre Wit, which I unfortunately missed, Twist was praised by critics and audiences, and even the Mayor Elect attended days after winning the seat. When a new play creates this much buzz, you have to take notice.
Seeing this artfully drawn family drama in this newly rechristened venue was such a communal experience. People coming together to support an important new work and a vital space reborn.
And in a way, we were also celebrating Chicago.
A narrative thread in Twist is the strength of our ever-changing city. Noah is a high school history teacher, and throughout the play he lectures on the rise, fall and rebirth of Chicago — from its founding to the great fire to the World’s Fair to today. From his lectures we gleam that a setback, like a three-day blaze or a tragic death, may mean a loss of momentum and stability, but our inner strength keeps us going. And while the pieces may be put back together eventually, the whole will never be the same — we have to adapt; become stronger and more resilient. Chicago is a city that’s endured because it had to; its people wouldn’t have it any other way.
Another running theme in the play is water. Our rivers and lakes run deep and strong, and while we may have been able to change the order and flow of those waters throughout the years, the current remains uncompromised. There’s also a brooding current in Jira — the sudden death of her father has caused her to question her origins and tap into the source of her being. She resents Noah for reasons that are partially teenage grief and rebellion and partially legitimate questions about his strength as a father and husband. She hopes meeting her birth mother will make sense of who she is. And, it does — but not as she anticipated.
This is a beautiful and emotionally resonant play, supported by honest acting, clear direction and breathtaking projections of Chicago’s waterfront, cityscape and history. I hope great things for the Mercury Theater as it enters its next generation. It seems it’s in good hands.
“A Twist of Water” plays through June 26 at the Mercury Theater. More info here >