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    Rain, River, Ice, Steam

    Fluid dynamics

    Strong dialogue and murky plot make "Rain, River, Ice, Steam" an imperfect but likeable exploration of how people pick up their lives after a giant tragedy.


    By the time we see them, the people of this small town have just been through a trauma — a miracle, if you believe in such things, which some do and some don't.

    Written by: S.L. Daniels.
    Directed by: Kimberly I. Kefgen.
    Cast: Molly Carden, Nick Dantos, Matt DeVriendt, Amy Ellenberger, Victoria Libertore, Casey Weaver, Michael Louis Wells.
    West End Theater
    263 W. 86th St.
    Previews start: April 19, 2003
    April 21 - May 17, 2003

    Three fires break out simultaneously, threatening 28 trapped townspeople with certain death, when a sudden cloudburst comes out of nowhere to extinguish the flames. It's over in 10 minutes.

    If you believe it's a miracle, then it's no surprise that there's now a booming trade in canning jars filled with "miracle rain." Nobody is sure of much in their new reality, not least of all, what you do with miracle rain once you've got it. But it seems important, just as everything seems newly important after surviving the epic disaster. Maybe it heals; maybe it's dangerous; maybe it brings you closer to God; maybe it inspires greed and hostility. Maybe it's just water.

    A teenage girl saved from death (played nicely by young Molly Carden) is closest to the center of this drama — along with an enterprising miracle-water salesman, she has quite a bit of the remaining merchandise in her possession, and she feels a divine attachment to her jars, whatever they may be good for. Eventually, she's persuaded to drink some of the water, with unpredictable results.

    The strange thing about this nonetheless likeable play is that there is almost no conflict or mystery to play out. There is the problem of the girl's runaway mother, who disappeared a couple weeks earlier for unexplained reasons, and returns just as suddenly. She has little to say for herself except she's sorry and she would have come back if she'd known about her daughter's ordeal. In a run-in with another character, she's reduced to pointing and saying, "Sook! She's crazy!" without ever having to express a real thought or emotion to hold up her side of the argument. It's an inadequately written part for actress Amy Ellenberger, who's had better opportunities in previous plays I've seen her in.

    That's in contrast to the rest of the dialogue, which is the play's strength. Characters in this slightly touched town speak in a way that's about 80 percent normal — but that last 20 percent keeps you paying close attention, waiting for subtle revelations or perhaps for the whole drama to spin giddily out of control. Playwright S.L. Daniels has an estimable touch for finding a character's voice and hidden eccentricities.

    In the end, I'm not sure I've gotten much enlightenment from this play about people with their jars of mystery water. Still, it does set a mood that's worth exploring further — maybe it's about the moment after a personal or collective trauma when the survivors dust themselves off and start asking what they should do next, whether they have become different people or can just slip back into their old, pre-apocalypse lives.

    MAY 13, 2003

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