Friday, May 25, 2018
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St. Pete's Aleshea Harris returns to Freefall Theatre with her play on a hurricane

BY JOHN FLEMING

Times Performing Arts Critic

What does 3,000 gallons of water look like on stage?

"It's like a small swimming pool, like an above-ground pool that takes up the set," answers Eric Davis, artistic director of Freefall Theatre. The question relates to the company's production of Rip.Tied, a new play by Aleshea Harris that opens this weekend, with, yes, 3,000 gallons of water on stage.

"I did not think that any theater would produce this play using real water," says Harris, who figured the watery setting of her play would be suggested by a theatrical device, such as a shimmering bolt of fabric. "So when Eric asked me about having water on stage, I said, 'Absolutely!' If you can have the real thing, it's the best."

Rip.Tied takes place in a Southern town after a hurricane, not unlike Hurricane Katrina. Inspired by African folk tales, it is about a pair of siblings whose house is threatened by the floodwaters around it, but they are reluctant to flee, in part, because of their ancestral roots in the place.

It is the first full-length play by Harris, an actor and writer and former St. Petersburg resident, now in grad school in the writing for performance program at California Institute of the Arts. Bay area theatergoers saw her in productions in recent years, including Hair and Gem of the Ocean at American Stage, The Frogs and Sleeping Beauty with Freefall and her one-woman show Oddlie. She was also a member of the Blue Scarf writers collective.

With a cast of seven, the Rip.Tied premiere is directed by Lydia Fort, with set design by Greg Bierce.

Plays immersed in water are not unheard of. The original production of Stephen Sondheim's The Frogs was performed in the Yale swimming pool. Metamorphoses, a Mary Zimmerman production performed in and around a pool, was a Tony Award winner. Lips Together, Teeth Apart by Terrence McNally involves a swimming pool.

"I think having water on stage is a magical thing," Davis says. "It's really a beautiful image."

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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