Emerson Stage dives straight into Deep Waters

by Beacon Staff • March 1, 2006

Emerson Stage's latest offering, A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters (performed Feb. 23-25), examines the role of religion in today's world, both by connecting it to the present and to the past in the spirit of tolerance.,Once in a while, a play comes along that makes you think.

Emerson Stage's latest offering, A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters (performed Feb. 23-25), examines the role of religion in today's world, both by connecting it to the present and to the past in the spirit of tolerance.

Directed by Emerson alumnus Brent Jennings and written by award-winning playwright James Still, A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters was truly engaging and thought-provoking, especially in the way in which it weaved together and combined different religions.

How people perceive God and spirituality was at the heart of this play, including representing Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Bahai, Islamic, Tongan (a Native American culture of the Los Angeles region, where the play first debuted this past summer with the Cornerstone Theater Company) and atheist beliefs.

Gender and sexuality were also discussed. This is one play everyone should see, regardless of his or her beliefs. It has a powerful internal message of tolerance and peace.

The cast, comprised of a dozen Emerson actors, was very convincing, with skill enough to end any possible confusion of who was who-not an easy task with more than 30 characters being portrayed.

Emerson faculty members Kathleen Donohue and Robbie McCauley acted alongside students, all in memorable roles.

The first act included an entertaining scene of two NASA astronauts in space, choreographed perfectly so as to appear as if they were weightless. When a problem arises on board and their oxygen begins to run out, the two astronauts eventually put aside their religious differences and try to make peace with themselves, one by praying as a Christian and the other reciting a Buddhist chant.

This is just one of the many combinations of religions put together in the play, Another includes two Hindus and a Muslim in Act Two. The young Hindu women question their friend as to why she wears the Muslim scarf, or hijab.

She explains that she wears it because she feels true to herself when she does, and not because her father tells her to, ending a stereotype. Her brother is attacked by a group of men and questions if it has to do with his Muslim beliefs or the fact that he is gay.

A Tonga woman journeys back to the burial ground of her ancestors and feels a connection to her past.

A man named Jesus de Los Angeles is with her and tells his story of how he was originally born a woman named Maria de Los Angeles but became his true self.

His family embraced him, turning their back on traditional beliefs to love their son.

The curtain call was as powerful as the context of the play, with the entire cast on stage reciting their real names and the religion that they believe in.

In a forum after Saturday's performance, playwright James Still and director Brent Jennings opened up to questions and comments from both the special guest moderator, Liz Walker, a news anchor at Boston's CBS4, and from the audience.

Still said A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters is the hardest play he has ever written.

"Honestly, [writing the play] was an awesome honor but a burden to carry around for a long time," Still said. "It's still really intense for me. This kind of work requires courage, for me personally."

He added that writing the play was "so worth it, because you know people are hungry for it."

Jennings said that he has "great regard for the play, and wanted to do it justice. [It was] very rewarding and challenging ... it made me feel like I was part of something that meant something."