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How the Hurricane Changed a Play After Sandy, "A Twist of Water" has new resonance

By MARK BLANKENSHIP

For the next few weeks, almost everything that happens in New York will be refracted through Hurricane Sandy's lens. A ride on the R train might be your first subway trip since the storm or the first one that feels "normal" again. A re-opened grocery store might have more food than you anticipated or less. And in the theatre, plays might resonate with unexpected parallels to the disaster.

That's certainly happening with Caitlin Parrish's A Twist of Water, which Chicago's Route 66 Theatre Company has brought to 59E59.

Literally speaking, the play's story hasn't changed: In the wake of his partner Richard's death, a high school teacher named Noah (Stef Tovar) sparks a relationship with a fellow teacher while trying to connect with Jira (Falashay Pearson), his grieving adopted daughter. In between scenes, he relates the history of Chicago, tracking its rebirth after fires and other disasters.

Tovar says those Chicago monologues feel different after the storm.

"It's very interesting that the hurricane happened last week, and our play is about rebuilding," he says. "I don't think there's another city on the planet right now that knows more about rebuilding than New York. When I talk about the Chicago Fire, I could just as easily be talking about Sandy."

Since New York performances began, Tovar, who is Route 66's artistic director, has also learned things that aren't weather-related. Those monologues, for instance, play differently when they're not in front of a Chicago crowd, and that has forced him to consider how they function in the show.

"In Chicago, I think they were much more lectures that weren't as much tied to what Noah's going through," Tovar says. "But it kind of hit me on Saturday morning that the story I'm conveying to the audience is my story. The story of my family, and how our family went through a tragedy and rebuilt together. Noah's choosing to tell you about Chicago because this is his story and what happened in his life, and this is how he knows to tell it: Through teaching, through history, and through the city that he loves."

Tovar is also refining his work with his co-stars---particularly his subtle scenes with Pearson. He says, "A question came up in the dressing room just this Sunday. 'What do you think Richard looks like? What does he look like to you?' And it occurred to us in that moment that we had never gotten on the same page about that."

However, he's glad he and Pearson haven't spent a lot of time comparing notes or developing a shared backstory. "It maybe serves the play better to not have done that," he says. "Early in the play, I say, 'I love her, and she hates me,' and we've all been there, as teenagers with our parents. You have that bridge between two people, and the more information that [Falashay and I] share, the more actor-y things we do to get on the same page, the narrower that bridge becomes.

"You don't want to take that bridge away because we need it to earn those moments in the end."

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Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor