Comments about Joe’s Play

To my new river to see a play
June 2009

My friend Joe Linton hasn’t been coming to our weekly potlucks and meetings for the last few months because he has been in rehearsal for a play. Since he’s not an actor, this has been an interesting development and he always sounds a bit scared about the whole thing. But last night a bunch of us carpooled and biked to a performance.

Even the box office was outdoors

Even the box office was outdoors

some of us biked

some of us biked

Joe is a river hero around here. He is incredibly knowledgable about the LA River ecosystem and wrote a highly respected book on the subject. He has actually kayaked the entire length, proving it is navigable. A longtime volunteer/staffer of Friends of the LA River (FOLAR), he is an artist. And gardener. And cook. But not an actor! (He did fine, was glad to see us.)

When we got there we saw some strange stuff at the end of the road.

two art installations for the river

two art installations for the river

A bunch of us got there an hour early to do an educational walk along the river. This section does have the usual concrete banks, but the bottom is natural because the water table is so high here they can’t get concrete to stay put. There are bike trails on both banks. My neighbor Randy is a bike messenger and rides here several times a week, especially likes it as a place to have lunch.

This section of the river is called Taylor Yard. Lots of water – it comes from a sewer reclamation plant upstream. “Toilet to tap” was such bad PR that they just dump the nice clean water in the river.

Taylor Yard

Taylor Yard

Access is awful, you can live close by, but have to drive miles and miles to get to the river. This is changing. We heard a lot about the plans to reclaim the river from its concrete straitjacket. And that’s sort of what the play was addressing. Characters included radicals with jackhammers, locals who did not want their neighborhoods changed by construction. (Plans call for hundreds of little feeder streets to direct foot traffic to the riverbank.) I was not allowed to take pictures of the performance.

Just before the walk ended I saw a great blue heron in the river. Then a heron was one of the first characters in the play. Notice how the bank drops off right behind the stage area to the right of KwanWu. They used the hidden bank as a backstage area. They even used the opposite bank of the river in one scene. But mostly they just used the road as the stage, in the area under the lights.

This salvaged car was part of the set

This salvaged car was part of the set

All the scenery and set design elements had been pulled out of the river, including the old car. Same with elements of the costumes. My favorite was a marvelous sea turtle whose carapace was covered with squashed beer cans.

The river takes center stage

The river takes center stage

These were used to make a house, too, as you see here, next to the band.

The most interesting element of set design was the river, which was in every scene. Almost everyone walked in it. Some characters swam or kayaked in it. It was the star of the play. The character who did not walk in it was in an electric wheelchair (Mallard). But she pulled an invisible monofilament string so her ducklings swam in it as they followed her.

Critters like Mallard, Ridley (turtle), Heron, etc. were all played by people, believably, except this excellent puppet played a river spirit and she was so fine! There was plenty of humor – one character was named Cachoo so every time she was introduced, the response was “God bless you.” Joe’s character was modelled on Joe.

A wonderful puppet had a role

A wonderful puppet had a role

Can’t describe the whole plot for you, but I can tell you how the play ends. The character called “Roger Vadim!” who opened the play admits that he’s not the famous director, drops his exaggerated French accent and his jackhammer and his radical ways. He pulls a photo out of his pocket and displays the Seine – a beautiful dramatic urban scene in Paris, with plenty of greenery, steps going down into the water, boats, fishermen, birds, tall buildings, walkers, streets. The idea that we could have a beautiful human-scale riverscape here in the great city of Los Angeles comes to life in a whole new way.

Wade, fish, swim, kayak in this river

Wade, fish, swim, kayak in this river

I found that there were tears running down my cheek. The entire performance was moving and thrilling and discreetly educational, rewarding and entertaining and heartwarming and alarming and something of a call to arms.

We were mostly freezing, even though the temp was around sixty, as the weather is quite damp (they call it the “June Gloom,” but the gardens benefit)… for an hour or so we were so engrossed we forgot the chill and the discomfort.

The Elizabeth will always feel like my home river, but it’s a thrill to encounter this same spirit of can-do must-do river restoration three thousand miles away, with hard work and a big heart and an intuitive feel for what it really takes to heal a river.

–Kathy Hill

2 thoughts on “Comments about Joe’s Play

  1. Thanks Kathy! Just a note to add a couple things that I didn’t see in there… the title of the play is “Touch the Water” and the folks who put it on are Cornerstone Theater Company.

    The play experience was fantastic… and now I am looking forward to getting back to spending more time at eco-village potlucks, work parties, gardens… and my artwork, too.

  2. Here’s one more comment from another neighbor – Doran:

    Touched by “Touch the Water”

    My summer kicked off the right way on Friday night the 12th of June when I went to see the play that Joe Linton stared in called, “Touch the Water”.

    It was one of those early midnight magical summer evenings with a cool breeze blowing off the Los Angeles river. The river that flowed surprisingly full and lush just 100 ft bellow from where the open air theater was.

    You could smell the water and hear it splash as it rushed by over the rocks producing small rapids. This I found surprising and beautiful, as it was my first time since living 8 years in LA that I actually went to the river. I felt blessed to be at such a historic place. It made me think of all the hundreds and thousands of years that residents, travelers and visitors to the LA area must have followed the river from town to town, fishing, drinking, swimming, and sleeping along it’s banks.

    I finally felt as if I was at the center of Los Angeles, just as the French (impostor) actor described in the opening introduction of “Touch the Water”. Saying that LA does have a center like every other city in the world. Comparing it to Paris where the Seine runs right through the middle of of the City. Only difference in LA, is that it’s been cemented over and channeled along hidden from it’s new nhabitants. Cut off from the city, almost buried away as if it were something to be ashamed of.

    The play, “Touch the Water”, to me was a magical trip back in time, back to our ancestral roots of story telling through song, dance, and acting. It took me to a place back in time along the many river banks of the world. I was transported back to the Nile, the Tigress and Euphrates. The Ganges, the Thames and Donau, all the way to the Colorado and the Amazon.

    I was witnessing a cultural exchange of ancient story telling the way it’s been done since the beginning of time. Way before there was written language, paintings, film and photography. Way way back in time when we as humans communicated the stories of our ancestors, or the journeys of the warriors out on a hunt, to each other. Way back when words, songs and dance were just being formed. When we told and passed on our histories to the new generations.

    And here we were once again in the 21st century sitting along the ancient river of the new city called Los Angeles listening to a play about the river. Told in a beautiful song and dance musical about the trials and tribulations of how the water effects us all. How the water is the foundation to our existence, and how the river is sacred and precious to us all. If we don’t respect the water and the rivers of the world, we will all perish sooner then we think.

    It was truly a beautiful play with so much meaning that touched me deep in my heart and soul. I loved the play, “Touch the Water”, and recommend that everyone take a journey to the river and see such a play, and remember that we are all connected to water, and it’s at the river that we connect to our past and our future!

    Doran McGee

    Doran Dada McGee

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