SELINSGROVE — Maybe all families keep the peace by avoiding certain topics and memories… but what happens when disaster forces them to grapple with those sore spots?
“By the Water,” presented by Susquehanna University’s Theater Department, examines one family’s handling of a crisis. Performances will be Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee performance on Sunday at 2:30 p.m., all at the Degenstein Campus Center Theater.
The play follows Marty and Mary Murphy after their Staten Island home is destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Some of their dear neighbors decide to move out, while Marty is determined to rebuild and save his neighborhood. When her sons arrive to help them, they discover past betrayals as well as the remains of the house, and the family must finally face the powers that can tear them apart or bring them together.
“It’s a snapshot of a family in adversity,” said Erik Viker, director and associate professor of theater at Susquehanna. “It gives us, I think, some hope for how we can come out of this adversity strong, as individuals and as families.”
He took on the challenge of a play that works with students learning to authentically portray a range of ages, from their thirties to their sixties.
“I love that the cast is also a range of experience levels, from freshman to graduating this year,” Viker said. “I think they learn from each other as much as they learn from directing.”
Third-year student Alex Wilson Jr. portrays one of the sixty-something characters in Marty Murphy, the patriarch of the Murphy family and a man who has particular ideas about how things should be done .
“He is in charge. He always has to do what he wants,” Wilson said. “He places values on his family and his community over just about everything else.”
Saying that Marty was referred to as Bono from Staten Island, he explained that Marty is charismatic and involved in several community organizations.
“He can be very stubborn,” Wilson said. “He always does what he thinks is right.”
The role of Marty’s son, Brian, is played by freshman Liam Finnerty, who explained that Brian had just been released from prison for a drug problem. A chef at an Olive Garden restaurant, Brian is the “polar opposite” of his brother, Finnerty said.
“Despite his background, he’s a character you can relate to,” Finnerty said. “He’s always quick with his brother’s teasing. Throughout his life he has made mistakes, but he is always there for his family. He is a family man.
Complicating matters further is the fact that Brian was romantically involved with Emily, whose family is good friends with the Murphys and whose house is also destroyed by the hurricane.
“All of their problems are kind of a powder keg, and what blows it up is Hurricane Sandy,” Finnerty said.
Emily, played by third-year student Adriana Quinones, was recently divorced. She and Brian were high school sweethearts, but something happened that caused them to crumble. Now adults, they have tough decisions to make.
Quinones described a scene where Emily compares her life to the hurricane-swept, torn and debris-covered beach.
“But she’s a strong, independent woman,” Quinones said. “In this relationship, she is the one who makes the decisions. She has to decide if she’s better off with Brian or on her own.
“By the Water” is kind of a pop culture experiment, Viker said.
“It’s a family drama with some comedic elements,” he said. “It’s a very well-balanced story.”
“It’s a very real story about an event that to this day still affects people,” Wilson said. “I think we’re doing a good job honoring these people.”
Written by Sharyn Rothstein, “By the Water” is part of Susquehanna University’s Main Stage 2021-22 season. This year, the theater department focused on plays to complement their climate change theme.
“It’s a very modern take on some of the country’s issues, so it’s a good way to end our climate change season,” Finnerty said. “It’s such a hot topic that a lot of people will relate to it. We are very happy to accomplish this.
At the center of the story is the Murphy family, with all the love and bitterness they feel for each other.
“It shows how a family goes through the toughest times, and the toughest times are compared to a hurricane,” Quinones said. “It’s a beautiful thing that’s happening to this family, how they’re doing.”
Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Email your comments to [email protected]