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Review: ‘(Not) Water’ Offers Too Much to Drink In


Mike Shapiro, left, and Ethan Hova in “(Not) Water.”

Marina McClure

The storm made landfall five days ago. The power grid went down almost immediately. Cellular service lasted a little longer. Airdrops have ceased, food has become scarce and the corner bodega now sells bottles of water for a cool $20 each. So when the woman in the lab coat pulls you into the bathroom and offers you a paper cup of clean H2O, you take it. Don’t you?

An intermittently immersive piece created by the playwright Sheila Callaghan and the director Daniella Topol, with an assist from the playwright Liza Birkenmeier, “(Not) Water” explores a substance that most if us take for granted, even as proposed government rollbacks, persistent droughts and lead contamination erode that confidence. Produced by New Georges at 3LD Art and Technology Center, this show asks, in the words of that bathroom scientist, “when that kind of blind faith in the resources you’ve been handed will start to vanish.”

But as a haphazard assemblage of skits, vignettes, monologues, metafiction and a meditation experienced while sprawled across brightly colored and awesomely comfortable pool floats, it struggles under the weight of its own ambitions. This is a show with a drinking problem.

“(Not) Water” is the centerpiece of “Works on Water,” a 26-day event, the first in a planned water-devoted triennial, that includes expeditions to nearby creeks and an on-site art exhibition. Works on display include video of tidal patterns; canoes made from found materials, like bits of a police barricade; an invitation to map Lower Manhattan with bottles of colored water; and a lifeguard chair built by a collective called Floating Studio for Dark Ecologies. There’s also a carnival-style game in the lobby that asks you to bob for rubber duckies potentially contaminated with fecal matter. (Somewhere, Ernie of “Sesame Street” must be very upset.)

A lot of these works are local, a few are global, most are squarely on the nose and each has a different way of characterizing water: topological, elemental, vulnerable, treacherous, mystical.

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