Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water

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The cast of Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water with Director Wali Jamal

I loved Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water by Michael A. Jones and directed by Wali Jamal. The opening performance performance at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company was riveting, with other critics taking notes and a photographer snapping pictures.

Jones is a native of Homewood, but I imagine that at some point in his life he passed through or knew someone in New Orleans because Hercules is a play about the devastation created by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Jones is a very clever playwright. I call Jones smart for three particular reasons. First, in a one act play with minimal set changes, Jones captures a roof top, a bar, and a Chicago apartment. Second, there’s a brilliantly designed video camera placed in the back of the apartment used to show various changes in the story (time passing, plane flights). Finally, Jones wrote a play about various serious subjects (Hurricane Katrina and the death of a child) but manages to intersperse just enough comedy in the work to not drown the audience with sadness. There are several moments in Hercules that caused the crowd to laugh out loud.

Hercules is a tale of two couples: Tupelo (Sam Lothard) is with Char (Shaun Nicole McCarthy) while Maxine (Shanita Blvins) is with Eugene (Corey Lankford). There is also Youngblood (Lamar K. Cheston) who is a co-worker of Tupelo. Each of the actors bring certain unique talents to their character: Tupelo is the rock of the play, Char is a serious but warm woman, Maxine is a character in pain, Eugene is an emotionally distant character, and Youngblood who is an ever scheming dreamer provides much needed levity to many of the most emotionally difficult scenes in Hercules.

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The play begins with Tupelo leaving to work in New Orleans to help support Char, who is pregnant and planning to become a nurse. After the death of her child, Maxine has had difficulty coping with daily life and finds support in Char. Maxine is so upset that she even has several waking nightmares on screen where she is confronted with Eugene.

While working in New Orleans, Tupelo and Youngblood learn of the impending nature of Hurricane Katrina. Although Char tries to warn Tupelo through cell phone, Tupelo cannot be reached. Ultimately, Tupelo and Youngblood end up on a roof of a house flooded by Katrina waiting for rescue from a helicopter.

At first, I was tempted to say that the only weakness of the play is that the story of Tupelo and Char does not really connect to the story of Maxine and Eugene. But as I thought about things, the two tales interconnect. Both tales are about couples that are separated by emotional or physical distance and ultimately reunite. The characters in the play are ultimately redeemed from the landscape of despair by hope; not the hope of anything grand because these are all everyday but rather the hope of a new tomorrow. The play is not just a tribute to the damage left by Hurricane Katrina, but a comedic work that breaks our hearts just a little and leaves us wondering for the thoughts of a better tomorrow.

Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water runs through May 21st and ticket information can be found here.