This Is Water

“..There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

--David Foster Wallace 

When I moved to Cambridge, I moved to 1958. And there are some great things here. My son bikes home from school by himself. We have a backyard and the kids walk the dog in the huge park behind the backyard. My children see their grandmother every week. This is a great place to raise a family.

However, the sexism is thick out in the provinces. When I had the opportunity to write a play for an evening of plays set at the Scott Polar Museum in Cambridge, I went to the museum looking for inspiration, but all I could find was 1958. All I could be was angry. Because that expensive little temple on Lensfield Road is a temple to white privately-educated brotherhood. So I wrote an angry play - an angry, funny play. In it, Mary Magdelene Jenkins, mother of Violet Jenkins and chaperone of Violet's girls' school trip to the museum tells the story of the fish to the headmistress of the school. Sometimes the things that are the most ubiquitous are the hardest things to find a way to talk about, and tomorrow night, Mary gets to talk about the water. What the headmistress, Esther, and Mary's daughter, Violet, do with the news, well - David Foster Wallace had terrible depression and it finally killed him. Let's leave it at that. East Anglia does not like hearing the news that it is not the singularly most wonderful place in the whole world. The world does not listen to the content if it has an easy objection to the form. And "crazy" is a very popular formal objection.

I write mostly because I am thankful for this moment tomorrow and it feels really special - it feels like real theater. I have been so delighted and fulfilled with the hard work of the talented actresses (Sue Maltby, Flaviana Cruz, Zoe Walker Fagg) and the director (Darren Bender) and the producers (Kim Komlijanec and Trish Rawson of WriteOn) and so pleased at all the wide eyes and nervousness about my controversial play (controversial, I hasten to add, for Cambridge). At every step I felt like I was listened to, and I could speak from the heart, and at every step people spoke from the heart back at me. Darren is a drummer and a producer. His direction has rhythm and a bottom-line orientation but also this generous openness. The conversations in rehearsals were inspiring.

Together we have worked and worked and for one shining twelve minute period tomorrow night all the energy and talent of these good people will come to an ephemeral fruition and Mary will point out the water. I am grateful. This is what I always wanted from theater: people all in a room together (a sold-out room I might add) on a particular night, never to be repeated, finding a way to catch a glimpse of the water.


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