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Hurricane Sandy Inspires New Play 'By the Water' at Manhattan Theatre Club

By Jon Sobel j.sobel@classicalite.com on Nov 16, 2014 08:20 PM EST

Whatever you call it--Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm Sandy, or just the "S" word--millions will not soon forget the most destructive storm of the 2012 season. The Off-Broadway world premiere of playwright Sharyn Rothstein's By the Water focuses on a fictional Staten Island family forced to make excruciating decisions in the aftermath of the hurricane that devastated so many communities in New York City's least-known borough. Now in previews, the play opens Tuesday, November 18 at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Directed by Hal Brooks, Artistic Director of the Pearl Theatre Company and of the Cape Cod Theatre Project, and produced in association with Ars Nova, By the Water focuses on Marty and Mary Murphy, whose home has just been ravaged by Sandy. As described in the program notes, "the storm has ripped apart more than just the walls: with their neighbors too devastated to stay, the couple's beloved Staten Island community is in danger of disappearing forever. Determined to rebuild, Marty wages a campaign to save his neighborhood and his home, but when the Murphys' sons arrive to help their parents dig out, past betrayals come rushing to the surface."

The play was commissioned and developed by Manhattan Theatre Club/Ars Nova Writer's Room, of which Rothstein is among the inaugural class. She is also a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre. After her "deliciously mean, smartly plotted" (Theatermania) The Invested premiered in 2011 starring Christina Haag, it was published in New Playwrights: The Best Plays of 2013.

Last month the By the Water cast visited some of the Staten Island communities they'd been engaged to represent onstage. Reaction by residents was mixed, some taking offense at the idea that anyone would be "exploiting their experiences" for entertainment, the Staten Island Advance reported yesterday. But one former resident of the Oakwood Beach neighborhood who came to Manhattan to see By the Water "was taken aback by the sensitivity and accuracy of the emotions portrayed in the play. 'It couldn't have been more real,' she said. 'We were really moved by it. It was so respectful and so tasteful.'"

Deirdre O'Connell (the Obie-winning Circle Mirror Transformation at Playwrights Horizons) and Vyto Ruginis (the original Broadway production of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing directed by Mike Nichols) star as the devastated homeowners. The cast also features Cassie Black, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Charlotte Meier, Tom Pelphrey and Ethan Phillips.

By the Water runs through December 7, just one week past the end of the official Atlantic hurricane season.

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TagsOff-Broadway, Manhattan Theatre Club, By the Water, Sharyn Rothstein, Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm Sandy