Melancholy hangs in the air throughout Caitlin Parrish’s affecting drama, A Twist of Water, at 59E59 Theaters. It permeates the lives of the play’s characters, creating rifts while simultaneously allowing for the possibility of new connections.
One year after the death of his husband Richard in a tragic car accident, Noah (Stef Tovar) is having a hard time dealing with both his own grief, and that of the gay couple’s adopted African-American daughter, Jira (Falashay Pearson). The angry young teen keeps disappearing late at night, and Noah constantly worries that she’s not going to come home. She informs him that she intends to find her birth mother (Lili-Anne Brown, who makes a late entrance into the play), because Jira wants “more family” in her life.
Noah, a Chicago high school teacher, is also in the beginning stages of a new romance with younger colleague Liam (the vibrant and charming Alex Hugh Brown) – which is complicated by the fact that Jira is one of Liam’s students. This aspect of the story is a bit too neatly contrived, and the chemistry between Tovar and Brown is not acute enough to charge their scenes with the sexual tension that seems to be called for by the script.
Tovar otherwise delivers a strong performance, imbuing his long monologues with a trace of sadness coupled with a genuine enthusiasm for Noah’s chosen subject: the city of Chicago. As he discusses the city’s risky founding, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the rebuilding that followed, and Chicago’s emergence into international glory with the 1893 World’s Fair, the metaphorical implications of his speech are crystal clear and resonate with the domestic drama of loss and forward motion that is unfolding in Noah’s own life.
Pearson captures the angst and heartbreak felt by her character, with a nuanced portrayal that makes all of Jira’s words and actions relatable even when they seem either intentionally or unintentionally cruel.
Director Erica Weiss, who co-conceived the story with playwright Parrish, provides a steady pace for the production that is only partly effective. It helps establish tone and atmosphere, but contributes to a sameness to the play’s rhythm that lulls rather than excites.
Still, even with its imperfections, A Twist of Water provides a fresh perspective on an unconventional family, and the show’s ultimate resolution is unquestionably moving.