I caused the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This is my conclusion after speaking with Argos MacCallum of Teatro Paraguas about the company’s reading of The Way of Water, Caridad Svich’s play about four people affected by said disaster.
“The values instilled in us in this culture are optimism and pragmatism, but the pragmatism is often very short-sighted,” MacCullum says. “We deal with the problems of each day, and it keeps us from seeing big picture. It’s really in nobody’s interest to keep this oil culture going, but as characters—as all of us—they are trying to be productive all the time.”
A pacific man dressed in black—as theater folk are wont to do—with wild gray hair and matching beard, MacCallum didn’t ask me to feel responsible for the spill as I sipped my Stumptown brew at Betterday Coffee. No, I took the guilt upon myself the night before as I moved through the play’s 116 pages of back-and-forth dialogue that rises in tension as the characters simultaneously argue in spirals of conflicting points of view.
At first, I identified with the characters’ inherent confusion, the sense of betrayal and hopelessness in the face of corporate vagary. Then I marveled at their inability to see outside the context of their immediate situation, the way they perpetuate the underlying circumstances. And finally, I applied my nascent theory of nonparticipatory political action to the background narrative, dismayed to acknowledge that I destroy lives, communities and ecosystems. And I don’t know when or how to stop.
Set in a small southeastern Louisiana town several months after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oilrig, The Way of Water steps into the lives of Jimmy and Rosalie Robichaux and Yuki and Neva Snow. Jimmy and Yuki are commercial fishing partners and longtime friends. While casting lines, they trade updates and platitudes, and provide a little exposition for the audience: Yuki doesn’t eat breakfast and it makes him weak; Jimmy’s been suffering from occasional dizziness. A bite on Jimmy’s line turns out to be a “nasty yellowfish,” “poisoned,” so he tosses it back. Here, the conversation turns to the oil companies, which Jimmy comes to call “Big Pig,” and I pull out my pen for the first underline: “Resistance is more powerful than a job sometimes,” Jimmy says.
We discover later just how impossible protest is—Yuki has an unexpected child on the way; Jimmy is three months behind on his mortgage; and the $50 their wives earn selling fake flowers goes right into living expenses.
Yet all they can do is complain. When Rose challenges Jimmy to find another profession, he indignantly says that fishing runs three generations deep in his family. When Yuki hooks a monster fish while Jimmy’s in the hospital, they fight over the split, using part of it to buy fast food. You see the irony, don’t you?
At this point, I begin to think about the politics inherent in everyday decisions. For instance, if I were to shop at Albertsons or Whole Foods, rather than tend my own garden or buy from area farmers, I would help determine the amount of purchase and influence a foreign company has over this community, the cost of goods and labor practices. If I were to buy a home, I’d justify an outrageously overvalued real estate market (yes, still!) and a reckless banking industry. And when I drive my car, I approve the methods and practices of the oil and gas industry. I pollute the air; I force chemicals into shale to extract the oil; I spill millions of gallons of crude into the gulf.
“There certainly is some self-censoring,” MacCallum says. “Hopefully, [the play] makes us aware of our own internal conflicts.”
The Way of Water
8 pm Saturday, April 21
3205 Calle Marie
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