‘By the Water’ a stormy post-Hurricane Sandy family drama

Brian O'Neill and Jo Twiss co-star in "By the Water," which is at Premiere Stages at Kean University in Union through Aug. 2.


Brian O’Neill and Jo Twiss co-star in “By the Water,” which Premiere Stages is presenting at Kean University in Union through Aug. 2.

For the Murphys, the real hurricane came later.

“By the Water,” a new play that Premiere Stages is presenting at the Zella Fry Theatre at Kean University in Union through Aug. 2, is set by the water in Staten Island, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But it’s not really about the natural disaster; it’s about the chain of stormy events it sets off in this family.

Still, the play’s primary setting — the family’s battered home — and some of the challenges the family faces (e.g., the difficulty of getting an insurance company representative on the phone, the tough decision over whether to rebuild or relocate) add an extra level of poignancy for those who suffered at the time, or are still suffering.

Written by Sharyn Rothstein and directed by Adam Immerwahr, “By the Water” starts with down-to-earth 60-something spouses Marty Murphy (Brian O’Neill) and Mary Murphy (Jo Twiss) returning to their home for the first time, post-Sandy. There’s a big hole in the wall, and other problems to take care of, but they seem determined to stay. But is that really determination, or just denial?

Either way, they get on with their lives. It’s a nice touch that we see a wall being slowly rebuilt, by Marty, at various points in the play.

Complications soon arise in the form of the couple’s two grown sons, corporate manager Sal (Mike DiSalvo) and ex-con Brian (Billy Finn), who come back home to check out the situation. Sal isn’t so sure that they should rebuild, and tries to enlist Brian — with whom he’s barely talking — in the cause.

There’s a lot of yelling back and forth in this family. These people love each other but are also exasperated with each other, much of the time, and can turn vicious.

Billy Finn and Deanna McGovern in "By the Water."

Billy Finn and Deanna McGovern in “By the Water.”

Meanwhile, Brian reconnects with his ex-girlfriend Emily (Deanna McGovern), who has just escaped a bad marriage and may be interested in dating him again. And her parents, Philip (Damian Buzzerio) and Andrea (Sheila Stasack) — old friends of the Murphys’ — have their own set of problems, and their own decision to make about their future.

We eventually learn that one of these characters has some pretty big skeletons in the closet, and that there are more factors in the stay-vs.-leave question, for the Murphys, than it initially appeared.

Some of the family dynamics felt unrealistic to me. These are four proud people, yet they put up with outrageous insults from each other without batting an eyelash.

Yet it’s a story that suits its environment. These characters, in many ways, are trying to put things back together after being bruised (both in regard to their personal lives and the physical homes). It’s perfectly fitting that the set itself seems cobbled together, and incomplete, and that they wear layers of drab clothing to protect themselves from the elements; virtually everyone in this play seems to be at a point where they just have to start over again, as difficult and as painful as that can be.

To purchase tickets or get more information on the play, visit keanstage.com.

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