Written by Susan Smith Blackburn Award winner Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Award winner Lilly Candis C. Jones, Cullud Wattah follows three generations of black women who went through Flint’s water crisis. The world premiere began preview performances in The Public’s Martinson Hall on Tuesday, November 2 and officially opens on Wednesday, November 17.
Cullud Wattah’s full cast includes Crystal Dickinson (Marion), Jennean Farmer (Marion / Ainee Understudy), Lizan Mitchell (Big Ma), Ta’Neesha Murphy (Plum / Reesee Understudy), Andrea Patterson (Ainee), Alicia Pilgrim (Plum ), Chavez Ravine (Big Ma Understudy) and Lauren F. Walker (Reesee).
2021 Susan Smith Blackburn Award winner Erika Dickerson-Despenza’s new Afro-surrealist play premieres at The Public about three generations of black women experiencing the current water crisis in Flint, Michigan. It’s been 936 days since Flint had clean drinking water. Marion, a third-generation General Motors employee, is consumed by layoffs at the engine plant. When her sister, Ainee, seeks justice and redress for lead poisoning, her plan reveals the toxic entanglements between the city and its most powerful industry, forcing their families to face the past-present-future cost of survival. As lead seeps into their homes and bodies, corrosive memories and secrets rise up among them. Will this family ever be able to filter the truth? Directed by Lilly Award winner Candis C. Jones, Cullud Wattah mixes form and bends time, delving deep into the toxic choices of the outside world, the inside contamination and how we make the best choices for the future of our people. families when there is no real, presents the options. Cullud Wattah comes to us from the same playwright and director duo behind the exciting digital production of shadow / land.
See what the reviews are saying …
Naveen Kumar, The New York Times: Inseparable as the real world calamity has become the realm of the art, Dickerson-Despenza’s “Cullud Wattah” is particularly suited to a time of environmental turmoil. After the play ends abruptly, the actors remain silent before leaving the stage. They don’t come back for a salute, as if it wasn’t a performance but a call to account.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: “Cullud Wattah” brings a whole new meaning to the words “kitchen sink drama”. In addition to what this genre generally offers, Dickerson-Despenza adds some didactic but captivating speeches and finishes it off with lyrical surrealism. As the youngest member of this family, Alicia Pilgrim embodies this walking nightmare without ever revealing the exact age of this girl. Lauren F. Walker skillfully plays her sister, and the physical contrast between her character and Pilgrim’s is just one of the many silent but haunting touches that director Candis C. Jones brings to the story.
David Finkle, New York Stage Review: The debate over whether works of art, no matter how fine, can affect the course of real life has never been resolved. It may be that Cullud Wattah, composed assiduously by Dickerson-Despenza, will not have the effect surely desired not only by her but by the Public Theater (which has added a complementary installation elsewhere in the building). A generalized result depends on uncontrollable circumstances. For now, Dickerson-Despenza deserves gratitude for presenting such a national issue as an intimately human protest, and therefore extremely relevant.
Raven Snook, Time Out New York: The Production Isn’t Perfect: The first act feels long, there are awkward scene transitions, and Pilgrim isn’t quite convincing as a nine-year-old, though. that she gives a glimpse of the adult female Plum could be. But cullud wattah offers a powerful representation of the toll that climate change, systemic racism and greed are putting on ordinary people. Its puzzling truths leave you thirsty for justice.
Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: Director Candis C. Jones (who also directed Shadow / Land) assembled an engaged cast and skillfully translated the playwright’s verbal poetry into a visual style that – with the colored water bordering the stage and sparkling chevrons – helps convey both the ugliness of the story and the beauty of its narrative.
Juan A. Ramirez, Theatrely: Candis C. Jones directs this heady work in an elegant manner in its magical realism, and grounded in his attention to talented actors, who turn into equally touching performances. Reflecting the playwright’s genuine concern for his characters, she writes that each is as essential to the drama as they are to each other. With these women fully realized, entering into their individual ailments, dreams and misfortunes is tantamount to unraveling the tense thread that the piece weaves and undoes with so much care and beauty.