THEATER REVIEW; Water World: Love of Plumbing
NY TIMES CITY THE ARTS/CULTURAL DESK
By PETER MARKS
A $5 billion water tunnel stretching 64 miles: they said it couldn't be
No, not building one; writing a compelling show about one.
The topic does sound better suited to a convention of hydrologists than
audience of New Yorkers with the usual level of curiosity about urban
plumbing. (In other words, zzzzzzz.) But against all odds, Marty
establishes a city water-delivery system as the backdrop for an often
show that speaks with intimate knowledge, and yes, even love, about
the ground and the people who drill them.
“City Water Tunnel No. 3,” a presentation at the Judith Anderson
written and performed by Ms. Pottenger, a carpenter who spent 20 years
building trades, gives new meaning to “underground theater.“
video scenes of the tunnel in progress and the actress's compassionate
impressions of laborers, engineers and bureaucrats, the performance
consists of vignettes illuminating aspects of the vast project, begun
than 20 years ago and not scheduled for completion for 25 more years:
construction of a third tunnel to carry billions of gallons of drinking
to the city from upstate reservoirs.
The challenge here, of course, is to make the prosaic poetic. The
construction job -- “the largest nondefense public works project in
Western Hemisphere,” the narrator tells us -- already has scale.
needs is personality, which Ms. Pottenger supplies, in her own voice
voices of the workers whose verbatim stories she tells.
The big pipe, or rather, “this beautiful concrete cylinder,“ as Ms.
Pottenger calls it, is a conveyance for a portrait of contemporary
it's as if the actress were paddling here and there along a cement
Mississippi. On a stage designed to look like a construction site, she
a primer on tunneling, from the floating of the bonds to the opening of
valves. Safety is essential on such a project -- 24 people have died
this one -- and so is the omnipresent pot of coffee. Her characters
York stories, immigrant stories, in the accents of Poland, Russia,
The approach is a blending of Studs Terkel, Anna Deavere Smith and Pete
Seeger, in which Ms. Pottenger seeks to bind the people building the
the people it is meant to serve. As Tony, one of the workers Ms.
impersonates, puts it, without the project New York might not survive,
because there would be “no drinkin', no floatin', no flushin', no
and no scrubbin'.”
Ms. Pottenger appears to have a heart as big as the tunnel. This has
advantages and drawbacks: while her soft spot for each and every
apparent, it's hard to believe a task this complex could be
so little rancor. She also hints at an on-the-job sexism that as a
the construction business she must have experienced firsthand. You do,
times, get the feeling that she's holding back something. Maybe that's
CITY WATER TUNNEL NO. 3
Written and performed by Marty Pottenger; directed by Jayne
Steve Elson, composer; Tony Giovannetti, lighting and technical
sound by Mio Morales; Arden Kirkland, costume consultant. Presented by
Working Theater, Robert Arcaro, artistic director; Mark Plesent,
director. At the Judith Anderson Theater, 424 West 42d Street, Clinton.
Published: 06 - 09 - 1998 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 4