Waters Rise 


Through Sunday, Oct. 13

Shadowbox Studios, Durham

Even after the global environmental disaster that we all know is coming, some things will stay the same—well, at least for a while. Frozen burritos, potato chips, and beer will still be available at the dollar store. TV? Still around, and with the same inane home decorating specials, wacky ads, and even the news (kind of). The electrical grid will be toast, but portable generators will keep our phones charged and our shacks lighted.

And there will be a place for everyone in the new order—except for lesbians, that is. Come to think of it, any women who aren’t interested in or capable of reproducing might need to justify their existence to society in other ways. And they certainly can’t be allowed to live together.

These are the rules that actor Laurel Ullman’s razor-sharp character, a disturbingly caffeinated and chipper Department of Defense field agent turned mercantile clerk named The Suit, makes clear in the early moments of Waters Rise, whose rewarding Women’s Theatre Festival world premiere discomfited audiences at Shadowbox Studios last weekend. Its dystopian near-future demonstrates the absurdity of the notion that most of us could suddenly, successfully live off a compromised (and largely underwater) land if the conventional means of commerce and transportation abruptly changed.

In Justine Wiesinger’s jet-black comedy, the continental coast has been radically remapped. Following a series of industrial accidents and nuclear meltdowns, the citizens that remain have their consumer habits and the amount of time they spend with people of the same and the opposite genders surveilled by a government that is supposedly intent on rebuilding the country with the citizens it values most. Having tricked out the shed she’s commandeered in early-dorm-room décor, central character Sarah (Jessica Flemming, in a career-best performance) has the consumer part covered. But when an apparently platonic friend and neighbor, Holly (a solid Sara Levy), spends too much time there, changes must be made.

Disturbing as they are, such ham-handed injustices ultimately take a back seat to the main dilemmas in Wiesinger’s text. Most people in Sarah and Holly’s generation have never had to build their own shelters or conveyances, or farm or kill their own food. Holly dutifully trumpets her dairy-only environmental consciousness as she heats up another frozen entrée in the microwave. “We just can’t keep consuming like that,” she says. And yet she does. And so do we.

With echoes of dystopian sci-fi classics like Soylent Green, the monsters in Waters Rise—those supposedly responsible for the titular threat—mirror humanity’s true monstrosity. Even with the older, wiser Magda (a warm Sandra Wallace) gently urging the pair to higher, more sustainable ground, Wiesinger convinces us that it’s a Darwinian joke of the highest order when Sarah and Holly stand their increasingly saturated ground. Still, make no mistake: The laugh’s most definitely on all of us.


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