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City Water Tunnel #3

CWT #3 Press

CWT #3 Excerpt - Galileo's Tears

CWT #3 Excerpt - John

CWT #3 - Flash movie

Just War

Winning the Peace

Peace Excerpt - David Cale

Buried Treasure: A Fresh Kills Reclamation Project

Fresh Kills Press

Construction Stories

Construction Excerpt - Round Don't Fit Square

Construction Excerpt - Nail Gun

THEATER REVIEW; Water World: Love of Plumbing



A $5 billion water tunnel stretching 64 miles: they said it couldn't be done. No, not building one; writing a compelling show about one. The topic does sound better suited to a convention of hydrologists than to an audience of New Yorkers with the usual level of curiosity about urban plumbing. (In other words, zzzzzzz.) But against all odds, Marty Pottenger establishes a city water-delivery system as the backdrop for an often lyrical show that speaks with intimate knowledge, and yes, even love, about holes in the ground and the people who drill them.

“City Water Tunnel No. 3,” a presentation at the Judith Anderson Theater written and performed by Ms. Pottenger, a carpenter who spent 20 years in the building trades, gives new meaning to “underground theater.“

Embroidered by video scenes of the tunnel in progress and the actress's compassionate impressions of laborers, engineers and bureaucrats, the performance piece consists of vignettes illuminating aspects of the vast project, begun more than 20 years ago and not scheduled for completion for 25 more years: the construction of a third tunnel to carry billions of gallons of drinking water 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 the Western Hemisphere,” the narrator tells us -- already has scale.

What it needs is personality, which Ms. Pottenger supplies, in her own voice and the 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 folkways; 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 offers a primer on tunneling, from the floating of the bonds to the opening of the valves. Safety is essential on such a project -- 24 people have died building this one -- and so is the omnipresent pot of coffee. Her characters tell New York stories, immigrant stories, in the accents of Poland, Russia, Ireland and Jamaica.

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 pipe to the people it is meant to serve. As Tony, one of the workers Ms. Pottenger impersonates, puts it, without the project New York might not survive, because there would be “no drinkin', no floatin', no flushin', no soapin' and no scrubbin'.”

Ms. Pottenger appears to have a heart as big as the tunnel. This has its advantages and drawbacks: while her soft spot for each and every subject is apparent, it's hard to believe a task this complex could be accomplished with so little rancor. She also hints at an on-the-job sexism that as a woman in the construction business she must have experienced firsthand. You do, at times, get the feeling that she's holding back something. Maybe that's for another show.


Written and performed by Marty Pottenger; directed by Jayne Austin-Williams; Steve Elson, composer; Tony Giovannetti, lighting and technical director; sound by Mio Morales; Arden Kirkland, costume consultant. Presented by the Working Theater, Robert Arcaro, artistic director; Mark Plesent, producing director. At the Judith Anderson Theater, 424 West 42d Street, Clinton.

Published: 06 - 09 - 1998 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 4 , Page 5

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