The Bluest Water: A Hurricane Camille Story (review)
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The Bluest Water: A Hurricane Camille Story. By Jason Chimonides. Directed by Geoffrey Kershner. Blue Ridge Summer Theatre Festival, Endstation Theatre Company, Amherst, VA. 17 July 2009.

Nestled in the heart of central Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Amherst may seem an unlikely place for a theatre company interested in producing new work, but it is precisely where Endstation Theatre Company has chosen to make its artistic home. Amherst and its surrounding counties are also at the heart of Endstation’s mission and its production of The Bluest Water: A Hurricane Camille Story. The Bluest Water revises a tradition of historical, community-specific theatre and suggests a possible avenue for young theatre companies searching for ways to build a committed and supportive audience by creating theatre for and about a specific community.

Co-founders Geoffrey Kershner (Endstation artistic director) and Krista Franco (Endstation resident scenic designer) created the company in 2006 after returning from a formative trip to Germany while they were still attending graduate school at Florida State University. While in Berlin, the two attended the Volksbühne’s production of Endstation America, an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire by Frank Castorf. According to Kershner (during an informal post-show conversation), they were drawn to the metaphor of the “last” station, which they interpreted as a returning home. Amherst County was Kershner’s “end” station, his childhood and spiritual home, and it was there that he and Franco set out to establish an artistic home as well.

Endstation’s community-based work, created as part of its Community Centered New Works Program, is only one aspect of its production programming, which also includes innovative stagings of Shakespearean classics and other new plays. However, even Endstation’s productions that are not community-based have central Virginia influences due, in part, to the fact that Kershner and Franco invited other theatre artists originally from the area, such as Dan Gallagher (Endstation resident lighting designer), to join Endstation as company members. Endstation has also formed ongoing relationships with many of its actors, meaning that even those not originally from the area have begun to establish a strong relationship with the people and culture of Amherst. This deep (and ongoing) connection to a single, specific geographical area, and the fact that many of its artistic and administrative staff members are originally from the area or have chosen to make it home, distinguish Endstation from companies such as Cornerstone Theatre Company, which also produces community-based and collaboratively created new plays and adaptations. While some of the productions planned for Endstation’s Community Centered New Works Program, such as its upcoming collaboration with the Monacan Indian Nation, deal with neglected historical moments or individuals within the broader community, in general, the program is not focused on addressing social-justice issues in the manner of Cornerstone.

In some ways, artistic director Kershner’s effort to create a play about Hurricane Camille, a category 5 storm that made landfall in Mississippi and traveled inland across the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia in August 1969, is a profoundly conservative endeavor. Although aesthetically quite different, the effort to represent the history of central Virginia and educate the community about itself has much in common with the civic, historical pageants of the early twentieth century, such as those organized by William Chauncy Langdon. Unlike the majority of those pageants, however, The Bluest Water tackles a single historical event, and it is not an essentializing historical account. It is a Hurricane Camille story rather than the story, although the play provides [End Page 298] opportunities for multiple Hurricane Camille stories to emerge.

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Sally Southall Parish (Liz), Ken Parks (Jared), and Michael Stablein Jr. (Nathan) in The Bluest Water: A Hurricane Camille Story. (Photo: Dan Gallagher.)

Jason Chimonides and Kershner frame the historical event with the contemporary story of Jared, a recently retired psychologist haunted by the death of a young Iraq War veteran who committed suicide while under his care. The soldier’s death triggers Jared’s memories of Nathan, a young GI he treated briefly in 1969. Nathan, who returned to Virginia from Vietnam...