Photos by Joshua Warner.
The play follows six African refugees stowed away in a container heads for an unknown location.
BY TRONE DOWD
This school year, the York College Performing Arts Center has followed a general theme with its shows. The “Season of the Kaleidoscope,” has been named for York’s yearlong collection of plays of all different themes and genres. The group’s latest play is the New York premier of “The Water Carriers.”
Directed by York College Theater Arts Professor Tom Marion, “The Water Carriers” is an adaptation of two old African legends— Sunjata and The Tree of Life. Written by South African playwright Michael Williams, the play follows six refugees of different backgrounds fleeing Africa in a shipping container. The six individuals do not know where they are headed, but end up on a journey weaving both the past and present together along the way, regaling one another with mystical stories of their ancestors.
Marion told the PRESS of Southeast Queens that it is a grounded play with more “out-there” undertones.
“It’s grounded by half of the scenes taking place inside of a ship container,” Marion said. “That’s done with almost film realism. But while they’re in there dealing with each other and their time as they face the unknown and the uncertainty of where they will arrive and who they are waiting with, they decide to tell the story of a couple of myths in order to give them strength.
The mystical aspect in the play revolves around how the protagonists in the container, unbeknownst to them, are joined by their ancestors, who are observing their journey.
“That is a continentally African conceit of telling a story as one’s grandfather told them,” Marion said.
The cast features 21 members, including 15 students from York College as well as community performers Mona Bass, Bertrand Jean and Winnie Sulumani.
We’ve been working on the play since the beginning of February,” the director said. “Six weeks total.”
Marion said that his personal favorite aspect of the play is the particular method of how the play is acted out.
“It is called African physical theater,” he said. “It is a type of theater developed in Africa where storytellers evolved into becoming actors and using props that they can carry in a bag. They would carry the objects with them or find objects around them in that moment and using them to tell their stories. These objects would become props, scenery or puppetry.”
Marion said that it requires technique and discipline on the part of the actor since they have to switch between being “psychologically truthful to the character” and having to project that character’s motivations and beliefs onto a prop or puppet.
“The 21 ensemble is on stage the entire time,” Marion said. “They really are a talented group of actors.”
“The Water Carriers” will be performed at the York College Performing Arts Center on March 24 at 4 p.m., March 25 at 7 p.m., March 26 at 3 p.m. and March 28 at 12 p.m.