Oil and Water

Music and memory unite in this deeply moving production

Presented by Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland
Written by Robert Chafe
Directed by Jillian Keiley

Neema Bickersteth and Ryan Allen in Robert Chafe's Oil and Water. Photo by John Lauener.

Robert Chafe's Oil and Water explores the remarkable true story of Lanier Phillips, the only African-American survivor of the wreck of the USS Truxtun, a supply ship that capsized off the coast of Newfoundland in 1942. The play recounts how he was rescued and cared for by the people of St. Lawrence in an experience that would change his life forever.

Presented by Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland, this beautifully staged drama features a ten-person cast singing an acapella score that blends the harmony of Newfoundland folk songs with the soul of gospel music. Shifting back and forth in time, the production begins with an older Lanier (Jeremiah Sparks) comforting his daughter Vonzia (Starr Domingue) during the 1974 school riots in Boston.

Next we meet the townspeople of St. Lawrence: Violet (the spirited Petrina Bromley), her husband John (Rody Richardson), his nephew Levi (Mark Power), and their friend Ena (Alison Woolridge) as they grapple with the dangerous realities of life in a mining community.

Back in Boston, Lanier tries to calm his daughter's growing hostility toward white people by telling her about his experience in the US Navy. In 1942, Phillips (Ryan Allen) and his friend Langston (Mike Payette) are working as mess attendents when the storm hits. Having been long oppressed by white people, Phillips is initially afraid to leave the sinking ship because he thinks he is off the coast of Iceland, where he was told blacks were forebidden to go ashore. With the voice of his great-grandmother Adeline (Neema Bickersteth) constantly in his head, warning him to stay on board, he jumps into the icy cold water, and is eventually saved by the Newfoundlanders.

In a touching act of kindness, Violet and Ena cover him with warm blankets and clean his oil-covered skin, the colour of which they have never seen before. Phillips is wholly accepted by the people of St. Lawrence, whose culture is untouched by the horrors of racism. With the help of Violet and her family, the young Lanier learns a valuable lesson about the nature of prejudice, and how it is taught.

Set designer Shawn Kerwin recreates the shipwreck with stunning effect, using a rocking, double-sided ladder, ropes, buckets of water and planks of wood. Complemented by Andrew Craig's heartrending music, the talented ensemble chant together in a dynamic performance that reaches a crescendo in the second half. 

Don't miss this touching tribute to real-life heroes. Oil and Water runs until May 6 at the Factory Theatre. Visit factorytheatre.ca for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Sat, 2012-04-28 - Tue, 2012-11-06
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