Life at the End of a Story
“My head hurts,” Nyx, the mythological Greek goddess of night, repeats throughout Northwest Original Works’ production of Good Water, the latest work of up-and-coming playwright Jessica Moreland and director Max Koh. The world as we know it has ended, ravaged at our own hands by the effects of climate change. Nyx is the last of the gods. There is nothing, no one, left. No wonder her head hurts.
Good Water spins its tale as a loose adaptation of the Pandora’s box Ancient Greek myth, recasting the titular Pandora as an AI companion created by one of the last survivors of climate calamity. If this sounds like a lot to you, it is — but the play miraculously weaves its many threads into a sharply written, brilliantly acted, and incisive commentary that just works, flawlessly.
The action centers on Mica (Holly Vander Hyde) and Hesiod (Katie Dreessen), two former mega-corporation employees who may just be the only survivors of abject climate apocalypse. In the wake of her grief, Mica creates Pandora (Leah Shannon), a curious, innocent AI who loves to learn about life before the calamity, and would really like to know what milkshakes taste like. Pandora sees visions of the goddess Nyx (Shona Carter), who bestows upon her the mysterious box that comprises the story’s dramaturgical and emotional cores. No one but Nyx knows what the box hides, but Pandora protects it with her life.
Good Water shines in no small part thanks to the stellar performances of its cast. Each of the five actors nails the play’s distinct blend of tragedy and comedy, soaring in particular thanks to the rapport between Vander Hyde and Dreessen – at times strained, but so palpably full of mutual care, imbuing the apocalyptic story with deeply human stakes. Shannon’s performance as Pandora floored me, beginning her arc as comedic relief and ending with the delivery of one of the most emotionally resonant performances in recent memory. I didn’t know robots could cry, but no matter – the audience cried right along with her.
In the hands of director Max Koh, the play’s action is dynamic, making use of the limited but imaginative set. Scattered cardboard serves as visual shorthand for ruin surrounding the central homestead of the play. It’s scrappy, but it works, thanks to the director’s commitment to making full use of the theater. Coupled with some truly inspired lighting work and fantastic stagework, the play transcends the limitations of its space, immersing the audience in an illusion that rarely broke over the play’s hour and a half-ish runtime.
If we live in a just world, Moreland has a bright career ahead of her as a playwright. Her writing is borderline alchemical, juggling stories of global catastrophe and the personal narratives of its characters with equal deftness. Speculative sci-fi works best as a twisted mirror on society’s failings, and Good Water’s mirror is a particularly sobering reflection of humanity’s continued indifference. Moreland is concerned with the spaces between; between the local and the global, yes, but more importantly, between grief and hope. The stakes are sky high on both fronts. The mythological Pandora’s box famously unleashed all of humanity’s evils… but it also unleashed hope. Good Water believes in hope. It has to.
“I think I came at the end of a story.” Pandora’s words ring true to an audience mainly comprised of people under the age of 30. How do you go on living when you’ve arrived at the end? What is there to live for when everything is all but lost? Good Water doesn’t have the answer – how could it? – but it reminded me of the reasons why we should try. The production ended with the cast delivering a call to action, or perhaps a rebuke of inaction – utterly unignorable after experiencing the heartache of its characters who’ve come to live through the end already.
It’s a shame this play isn’t running for longer. It deserves to be seen.
Good Water Joint Production of Northwest Original Works and Theatre Off Jackson. at Theatre Off Jackson. 407-7th Ave S. Seattle, 98104. (Chinatown/International District-Corner of Jackson and 7th Ave S). Jan 18th-20th, 7:30 PM.
Transportation: Bus #7 along Jackson or , Chinatown/International Stop on Light Rail, Walk East a few blocks.