Sean Carter Photography

‘Flint’ Accurately Reminds, Highlights Water Crisis

January 31, 2018

When walking past the Purple Rose Theatre’s dimly lit stage to my seat on opening night, I did not know what to expect.

For months, I had been thinking about the nature of the play and its objective. I worried that a play titled Flint, written by Jeff Daniels (most certainly a great actor and playwright, but not a Flint native), would be, at the very least, misguided. However, I could not have been more wrong.

My initial impression of the set, designed by Vincent Mountain and Danna Segrest, was that it was simple. Except for the black and white photographs of Flint residents celebrating happier times, which would later serve to contrast the much gloomier events happening underneath them, no one item stood out.

There were no vibrant colors or oddly shaped objects. All I saw was a small dining set and a kitchen. With time, however, I realized this was on purpose. The set was my first clue at how landed in reality this play would be. It did not stand out  because it was poorly designed, but because it was the set I see at my own home and at any friend’s house.

The same can be said about Shelby Newport’s costume design, who is an associate professor at UM-Flint. The characters dress like anyone you’d pass walking down Saginaw Street. Before the first words were even uttered by a cast member, it is clear you are looking into the kitchen of any house in Flint.

Inside of this unexceptionally exceptional set, a troubling, familiar series of events for many Flint residents unravels over the course of a cool Flint afternoon. It’s September of 2014 in Flint. In her kitchen, church van driver Olivia, played by Casaundra Freeman, talks to her husband Mitchell, played by Lynch R. Travis, about her day.

 

The conversation soon becomes about Mitchell’s loss of his job at GM as a line worker and his struggles as a part-time employee in the sport section of a Walmart, working for $8.40 an hour.

Soon after this, friend and neighbor Eddie (David Bendena), walks in. The three continue to talk about the in city. Eddie, who doesn’t have a job, has chosen to wait for the right one to come along. Not long after this, Karen ( Rhiannon Ragland, a Flint native), joins them.

From there, the ball starts rolling. Throughout the night, the two couples fall down a rabbit hole full of memories of better days, deep-seated and very palpable racial tension, unsolvable problems, and heartbreaking solutions. All the while, the tap water, yellow and brown, being periodically served and drank, serves as a silent and barely unacknowledged fifth character. An eerie reminder for us, and a warning for the couple, of the problems Flint would soon be facing.

Flint serves as an honest look into what might have been and still is the lives of many Flint residents. The acting was executed perfectly. Each character, no matter how optimistic, has a weariness about them. Through the actors, this weariness is extended to the audience.

During the whole play I could not help but feel like I was not welcome to witness what I was witnessing. The emotions expressed and the words said are guttural. They clearly come from a place so personal that even the characters have trouble expressing them.

Particular praise has to go to Lynch R. Travis. After the climax of the play, after all is said and done, when he is finally alone in his kitchen, his character Mitchell leans on the kitchen door frame, facing away from the audience, and begins to cry.

To me, this is when the message of the play lands. The weight of the world is almost visibly on Mitchell’s shoulders. At this point, he truly becomes the embodiment of every Flint resident.

The play, much like the water crisis itself, ends where it began. Rather than any problems being solved, the misery and the suffering only grows from the realization that life from here on out for the couples, as much as the city, will be filled with seemingly endless trials and tribulations.

For anyone looking to understand the problems faced by so many individuals, couples, and families since the decline of Flint, or anyone who lived or is living through the very same things as Olivia, Mitchell, Karen, and Eddie, seeing this play is a must.

The wide range of topics and human emotions touched on in detail will give viewers a hauntingly short glimpse into the issues so many people, who did not deserve them, have had to face.

Jeff Daniels’ Flint play, brought to fruition by artistic director Guy Sanville, will be performed regularly Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Saturday Matinees at 3 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. The production will run through Saturday, March 10.

Visit www.purplerosetheatre.org for more information. 

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